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TBI report shows increase in officer injuries

Becky Campbell • May 12, 2018 at 11:15 PM

No Tennessee law enforcement officers were killed in the line of duty last year, but more than 2,100 were assaulted, stalked or intimidated, according to a Tennessee Bureau of Investigation report issued recently.

Also, the annual report — Law Enforcement Officers Killed or Assaulted — showed a 14.7 percent increase in the number of incidents from the 1,808 reported in 2016. It’s the third straight year for an increase, according to the most recent and past reports. In 2015 there were 1,757 incidents.

The types of incidents in which officers were injured included responding to disturbance calls, pursuing burglary suspects, pursuing robbery suspects, arresting people, investigating a suspicious person or circumstance and traffic stops and pursuits.

Past incidents in the area, but not included in the two years detailed here, include:

Feb. 19, 2016, Elizabethton Police Department Capt. Jerry Bradley was shot in the head near Southside Road while he was assisting in a search for Curtis James Dugger, who was wanted on federal warrants. Dugger was killed in the confrontation.

Dec. 16, 2015, Carter County Sheriff’s Department Deputy Jenna Markland was shot in the face after responding to a call about a drunk man with a weapon on Dry Creek Road in Stoney Creek. When Markland arrived and got out of her vehicle to talk to Sheriff Dexter Lunceford, she was shot in the face during a barrage of gunfire in which more than 40 rounds were alleged to have been fired by Kelly Lee Pitts. He was taken into custody and charged with seven counts of attempted first-degree murder. Markland later returned to work.

Jan. 2, 2012, Washington County Sheriff’s Deputy Gary Daugherty was struck by a car driven by a man trying to get away from officers during a home invasion robbery investigation. Daughterty was attempting to throw out a spike strip to stop a vehicle fleeing from a reported robbery. The strip got tangled and Daugherty ran into the road to re-deploy it. As he tried to get out of the road, the fast-approaching fleeing vehicle hit him. Daugherty was thrown approximately 80 feet from the point of impact. Three weeks later, he went home to continue his lengthy recovery. Daugherty returned to work in 2013.

Aug. 30, 2008, Carter County Deputy Stephanie Simpson was dispatched to a home near Watauga about a fight in progress. Simpson was met by Phillip Hyder Sr., who police said shot her in the face with a .309-caliber rifle. Simpson, a K9 officer, was seriously injured as was her dog. Both survived and Simpson returned to work but later left the department. Another officer, Lt. Harvey Guess, shot and killed Hyder. The deputy's police dog was also shot and underwent surgery at an animal hospital.

Locally, the number of officers injured remained low in the past two years, but even so there were more for the JCPD and WCSO year-over-year.

In 2016, the departments had 20 and 14 injuries, respectively. In 2017 those numbers went to 27 for JCPD and 16 for WCSO.

One local official said the statewide jump was concerning.

“ I think we have to pay attention to statewide trends and not just our own,” said Chief Deputy Leighta Laitinen of the Washington County Sheriff's Office.

“A 14 percent increase is concerning. We are constantly looking for ways to improve officer safety. The recent approval by the County Commission for body and car cameras for all our officers will greatly assist in officer safety. “

The LEOKA report, generated from crime data submitted to TBI by 230 law enforcement agencies across the state through the Tennessee Incident Based Reporting System, did not break down the numbers to show what departments had higher incidents, according to TBI Public Information Officer Leslie Earhart.

“As with all of our crime reports, we hope these numbers will be eye-opening and will generate conversations at the local level about what’s happening in their communities,” Earhart said. “Law enforcement officers have an extremely dangerous job, so we want them to be as prepared as possible. Our hope is that this report helps both veteran officers and those just starting their career better understand the dangers they may face.”

Across the state, residential calls for service were the most dangerous situations where officers were injured in an assault. There were 669 injuries at a residence last year. Other high-injury locations included:

• 571 along a highway, roadside or alley;

• 571 in a parking lot or garage;

• 190 at a jail or prison;

• 117 in a government or public building;

• 70 in a hospital;

• 64 at an elementary or secondary school; and

• 44 at a convenience store.

To break that down a little further, the TBI report indicated that residential calls were the highest location for simple assaults against an officer while highways, roadsides or alleys were the most frequent locations for aggravated assault on an officer.

JCPD Chief Karl Turner said officer safety is always a top priority and the increased number from 2016 to 2017 is concerning.

“It’s always a concern for us throughout the year,” he said. Turner said officer in-service training often focuses on the topic of officer safety. He said the department does everything it can to provide officers the training and tools to not only keep the public safe, but keep themselves safe as well.

Laitenin said pairing officers up and assistance among area departments also help keep officers safe.

“We try to utilize our reserve deputies as much as possible for patrol so that two officers are responding to calls instead of one,” she said.

“Officer safety issues are covered annually in in-service training and roll call training on an as-needed basis. I truly believe one of the biggest reasons our region is below the state average is we have multiple agencies in very close proximity and we have positive relationships working together to keep our officers safe, be it JCPD, Carter County, Jonesborough etc. If one of us needs help, we all respond if needed.”

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