(Story updated 12/16/19 to clarify PARC’s role in resolving complaints.)
You might say Clarence Vaughn III came by his dedication to community service naturally; his mother devoted 41 years of her life to social work and case management, and his father answered a call to the ministry. For Vaughn, the executive director of Knoxville’s Police Advisory & Review Committee (PARC), helping citizens who fear their voices go unheard is a calling.
PARC was created by executive order in September 1998 and codified by city ordinance in May 2001. It acts independently to review complaints of misconduct filed by citizens against the Knoxville Police Department.
There are seven committee members appointed by the mayor and approved by the city council for a term of three years. The committee meets quarterly, rotating the meeting among different locations within the city.
“We resolve complaints that are addressed and reviewed by the executive director in which the resolution can come in the form of mediation or a detailed conversation between the director and complainant.”
Because the very nature of its mission may bring it into conflict with the KPD, a good relationship with the department is vital.
“We have a strong relationship with KPD,” Vaughn said. “I think we have the right processes in place, and our work is transparent.”
Vaughn is in regular contact with Capt. Anthony Willis, KPD’s East District commander, and Capt. David Powell, the West District commander. He also meets with Chief Eve Thomas informally as their schedules allow.
No two days are alike for the director. Between answering calls and emails, Vaughn might find himself reviewing video from an officer’s body cam. And then there is community outreach through speaking.
“I do a lot of speaking engagements,” Vaughn said. The settings range from schools to churches to community events.
The city charter allows the executive director to hire assistance as needed. For now, he’s “an office of one.”
That changes when an intern comes on board.
“For the last three years we’ve had an internship program,” Vaughn said. “(Typically) sociology majors interested in law enforcement.”
The intern program exposes the student to the workings of the KPD, the Knox County Sheriff’s Office, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and the local field office of the FBI.
The national recruitment crisis for police agencies is reflected in the size of the most recent KPD graduating class.
“There are 19 in the class,” Vaughn said, “but three are cadets.” That leaves only 16 new officers.
Police work is dangerous and isn’t getting safer. Vaughn chalks up much of the violence which affects police and citizens alike to drug abuse which requires the abuser to “feed the need.”
“Violence begets violence,” he added.
Knoxville has been largely spared the horrific examples of police abuse that created unrest and even more violence in the U.S. in recent years. That doesn’t mean PARC has been idle.
Since its inception in September 1998 through Dec. 31, 2018, 2,579 cases have been brought to PARC for review. Of that number 2,555 were closed.
In 2018 there were 85 cases presented to PARC. The majority of them (49) were resolved by the executive director. Twenty-two were resolved by the KPD, 12 were referred to other agencies and four were settled by mediation between the executive director and KPD. A handful were referred to Internal Affairs.
Complaints about police “conduct” were logged 20 times last year. “Citizen’s Advocate” cases (PARC addressing concerns on behalf of citizens), numbered 19. Clearly, assisting the “voiceless” is a primary concern of the committee. Eight complaints of racial profiling were registered.
Serving at the pleasure of the mayor means there are no guarantees when a new administration comes to office. However, Vaughn’s demonstrated competency and professionalism should stand him in good stead with Mayor-elect Kincannon. His passion for the job would be hard to replace.
Larry Van Guilder is the business/government editor for KnoxTNToday. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.