If you’re interested in what J.D. Hopkins has to say about East Knoxville, ask.
“…. There are some great people in East Knoxville, so kind, and they’d give you the last dollar in their pocket. I have strong feelings for East Knoxville people. I appreciate them.”
“…. I think the people of East Knoxville have gotten a bad rap because of a few bad people who are not representative of the community. They don’t get a fair shake.”
“…. This is where I am supposed to be. I don’t want to work anywhere else.”
He knows of what he speaks.
Hopkins is a veteran patrol officer for the Knoxville Police Department. He took the oath 23 years ago and for all 23 years his “beat” has been the East Knoxville District. It’s unusual for a cop to stay on one beat for so long, but Hopkins has and it’s been his request to do so. He knows East Knoxville and its people like he knows the back of his hand.
He’s made a big difference. Hopkins is still trying to wrap his arms and his mind around what happened at the annual KPD Awards Luncheon on April 26. The department’s most prestigious honor is the Mike Waggoner Leadership Award. Selected by peers on the KPD Awards and Commendations Committee based on nominations from anyone in the department, it is presented to an officer who displays strong passion, dedication and thoroughness and inspires others to do likewise. The name on this year’s plaque – J.D. Hopkins.
“It floored me,” he recalls. “I was not expecting it. It was and is still very emotional for me. It truly touched me that they thought that much of me. I have tried to emulate Mike Waggoner throughout my career and this is humbling. I don’t feel like I deserved this award.”
He and Waggoner are old friends. Waggoner, who works with the Organized Crime Unit, was at the luncheon. They didn’t shake hands – they hugged.
At KPD and most everywhere, he’s called J.D. – for Jeffery Dean. Reared in Norwood, he graduated from Central High School in 1982 and then bounced around in a few jobs before landing at the Knoxville Glove Co. After a few years he was promoted to plant manager and stayed there for 16 years.
But he wanted more and eventually became a reserve officer for the KPD in 1989 for five years and then did the same job at the Knox County Sheriff’s Office for five more years, all the while maintaining his regular job.
“My brother-in-law told me that if I was enjoying it that much, I should do it full time, so I quit Knoxville Glove and joined KPD in 1999,” he said. “I have made it my mission to change the perception of law enforcement officers by building relationships and trust in the community. We have a lot of fun doing this job and we meet amazing people on this beat. It makes a huge difference when you are happy doing what you are doing. I love my job and I want to serve in East Knoxville until I retire.”
He has passed on other assignments and promotions through the years to remain a beat cop on the beat he loves.
Retirement is a few years removed for this 57-year-old, who is an imposing figure at 6-4 and 250 pounds and relaxes off work on his Harley Davidson motorcycle.
“The relationship between the people of East Knoxville and the KPD has not been good over the years, but I have worked hard to treat everyone fairly and give them a voice,” he explained. “I walk from one end of the Walter P. Taylor homes and I see people out grilling and having a good time. They offer us food and make us feel good. They appreciate what we do. I just have a different perspective. There are good people in East Knoxville.”
Hopkins leads Delta Squad, 12 officers strong, in patrolling the East District. He’s proud of this team. “I see what my guys are doing every day – buying gifts for kids, buying dinner for people who are hungry, giving someone a ride somewhere.
“I see our men and women help people every day. That’s why it’s disappointing to hear negative comments about police officers. It’s not fair. It’s about a lot more than one incident with one person. Sure, we can do better. Everyone can.”
He does come in contact with gang members. They are, he said, mostly out-of-town young men causing most of the crime. “We used to deal with crack and meth but now it’s mainly heroin. We have the Detroit influence, gangs coming in and selling and using. It changed about five or six years ago.” He says at least 10 gangs and their offshoots and factions do business in East Knoxville today.
In his 33 years, Hopkins has never fired his service revolver. “Nope. I’ve never had to press the trigger. My threshold for pulling my gun and pulling the trigger is very high. I’m all about talking vs. force.”
Tom King has served at newspapers in Georgia, Tennessee, Texas and California and was the editor of two newspapers. Suggest future Our Town Hero stories at [email protected] or call him at 865-659-3562.