Evan Thornton: Tracking sex offenders

Tom KingOur Town Heroes

Evan Thornton’s job at the Knoxville Police Department is one few people want. He hears the questions – “How can you work with sex offenders?” and “Why do you do it?” And comments like: “I guess someone has to do it.”


Evan Thornton is an investigator (or detective) within KPD’s Violent Crimes Unit. Specifically, he is assigned to the Sex Offender Registry Detail. It’s a one-man detail. The sex offender registry for Knoxville that he maintains has approximately 160 names on it. Most are men. Females make up 7% of the offenders.

Evan Thornton

Thornton knows and works with all of these sex offenders. He keeps close tabs on each one. He visits them where they live. He’s very good at his job. He was nominated for Officer of the Year in 2019, and was KPD’s October 2020 Officer of the Month for his efforts throughout last Halloween weekend when he conducted some 80 sex offender compliance reviews.

“He does a lot of really high-quality work that goes unnoticed,” says Scott Erland, KPD’s public information officer.

Thornton, 41, is a 15-year KPD veteran, entering his sixth year in the sex offender position. “I feel like I am making a difference here and I want to stay in this job,” he says. “I have compassion for the victims. I see the reality of this crime that people don’t want to see and are oblivious to for the most part unless it touches their family. I’m out there working to stop someone from being a victim and to help prevent an offender from offending again.”

Thornton must know about any changes in their lives “I have to get updates on any changes they make – when they get a new phone number, a new address, their social media usage, registration for a vehicle. There are certain places where they can live and places they can’t live, and I have to know where they are,” he explained.

The majority of the offenders’ victims are children. Many were arrested on indecent exposure charges, sexual assault, and have been involved in child pornography and sex trafficking.

“Yes, somebody’s got to do what I do. I do not have any bias here. If I did I would not be very good about what I do. But everyone is different and unique,” Thornton said. “I know personal things about their lives. I treat everyone with respect and if they have an issue and get an urge to reoffend, they can call me – and they do – in the middle of the night. They all have my cell number. I’ll be there to help them, get them some therapy if necessary.”

In addition to his KPD work, he also works with Knox and Blount counties and other counties and agencies throughout East Tennessee, including the TBI and the U.S. Marshals task force on sex crimes.

In 2004 he earned an associate degree from Pellissippi State Community College and a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Bethel University in 2014.

Thornton is dedicated and thoughtful about his work and picks his words very carefully. The question posed to him was: Why is your work so important to you? “Anyone working in this type of unit has to understand that you are going to see and hear horrible things daily. You will get tired of it and question why things like this happen to children or people in general. That’s where you find the significance. You understand that even though these things happen and you can’t stop them all from occurring, you have to fight and move forward. You do that for the past victims, and you do it because it is the right thing to do.”

And he quickly added: “The purpose of this work is to help. Even though sometimes you get overwhelmed with the pure volume of moving pieces connected to this work, I can’t imagine doing anything else.”

And that’s how he does his job!

Tom King has served at newspapers in Georgia, Tennessee, Texas and California and was the editor of two newspapers. He writes this Monday column – Our Town Heroes – for KnoxTNToday.com. Suggest future stories at tking535@gmail.com or call him at 865-659-3562.

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