KPD’s Seth Blaine: Big on community policing

Tom KingOur Town Heroes

Seth Blaine’s heart is in community policing, in connecting with people. They may live in the historic Fourth & Gill neighborhood or in a homeless camp in what’s known as the Mission District downtown at Safe Space Camp. He knows many of their names. He wants them to know he cares.

This 29-year-old Knoxville Police Department (KPD) officer uses these words to describe his approach: “I love building relationships and interacting with people in the heart of the city downtown and it sounds corny, but I’m focused on making a difference for people, a real difference, for them and the community and letting them know somebody cares.”

Seth Blaine

As so it is that on March 2, 2023, Blaine was honored as the 2023 Officer Liaison of the Year at the inaugural Neighborhood Awards Dinner, sponsored by the city’s Office of Neighborhood Empowerment. He was nominated by the Fourth & Gill Neighborhood Association. The city’s Office of Neighborhood Empowerment, in partnership with the KPD, started the Liaison Officer of the Year in 2019.

Blaine is so serious about this that in 2021 he resigned from his first law enforcement job at the Knox County Sheriff’s Office (KCSO) after five years. He was hired by the KPD in September 2021 as a “lateral transfer” from the KCSO and immediately placed on patrol.

“I enjoyed working in the sheriff’s (office) but there’s not a lot of opportunity to do community policing there. The city’s neighborhoods are older and more established, and people who live in those neighborhoods seem to know each other better.”

Maybe growing up in the Inskip area of neighborhoods subconsciously planted this seed. He’s a product of Sterchi Elementary School, Gresham Middle and Central High, class of 2012, an all-state defensive end on the Bobcat football team. But he did more than play football. He was a member of the Bobcat Company Musical Theater, a tenor who played leading roles (Raoul) in “Phantom of the Opera” and (Enjolras) in “Les Misérables.”

Music is a family love. His wife, Roxanne, is music director of their church – Luminary Methodist Church in Ten Mile. He’s a tenor in the choir. She also is a music teacher for Knox County Schools Virtual Online School. They’re both missing work right now on leaves. On March 11 she delivered their first child, a baby girl. Mom, baby and Dad are doing great, Dad says.

While all of this is happening, Blaine is working to complete his undergraduate degree in interdisciplinary studies at the University of Tennessee, graduating in December. He also has an associate degree from Pellissippi State Community College.

His goal is to use what he’s learning at work. “I’d like to be a leader one day at KPD,” he said. “And this will help me.”

He also spent six years serving in the Tennessee Army National Guard in the 278th Armored Cavalry. And at KPD he is a member of its honor guard and the recently formed CERT – community engagement response team.

The Fourth & Gill Association listed reasons for nominating him. Among them were:

  • Instituted more regular foot patrols to get to know the community.
  • Joined the community email listserv to know what’s happening in the neighborhood.
  • Attended its monthly board meetings and spoke on the current safety in the community.
  • His community building skills: “He does it reaching out to every neighbor he sees and by email with others who communicate online,” the letter reads.
  • “He is the first person we reach out to. We know he cares.”

Gabrielle Boudreau is president of the Fourth & Gill Neighborhood Organization. She wrote the letter and here is a key quote: “Officer Blaine is sensitive to the issues we face. I’ve lived here for 30-plus years and I’ve never known an officer who so many of our neighbors know by name. If something has happened of concern, someone will frequently ask if we’ve contacted Officer Blaine because they know that he cares and that he’ll act on the information.”

When he first visited Fourth & Gill, he noticed the residents walking around with one another, talking and hanging out on front porches. “So, I parked my car and started walking around introducing myself to them. I told them my name is Officer Seth Blaine and I’m your police officer,” he said. “I’ve gotten to know many of their names. I know Jamie Dobbs and she invited me to their events. I loved being there.”

He was on the front end of working to stop a rash of vehicle burglaries and thefts from front porches. Their inner city neighborhood also has its share of homeless foot traffic and pop-up encampments and Blaine helped them deal with those issues.

But he’s not there now. KPD beats are rotated and he’s now part of the Central Delta district, working rotating 12-hour shifts between day and night. It is called the Mission Beat, the smallest beat in city. Officers there spend a lot of time with the homeless population. “I like working with the homeless and the different kinds of people you meet,” Blaine says. “I was at the KARM Rescue Mission and heard this beautiful piano music. It was insanely beautiful. I love music so I walked in. There at the piano in the chapel was the old homeless man just playing his heart out.”

One homeless woman he knows is Angel. “I talk with her. She rides a bike everywhere and sleeps where she can. She’s at the mission some nights. She’s in her mid-40s I’d say. But I have gotten to know her,” he said. “Last year my wife and I walked out of the Tennessee Theater onto Union Avenue and I heard someone say ‘Hey, I know you.’ It was Angel. I introduced her to my wife and it was such a cool moment. We had a conversation and you could tell that for those few minutes she felt normal. You could tell that we made a difference for her, talking with her like a person and a friend and I think it meant the world to all of us.”

He was just 7 when the twin towers collapsed on 9-11. He watched it all with his family, the first responders with the New York Police Department and the Fire Department of New York. “Those guys really made an impression on me. They were rock star heroes of mine and I knew then I wanted to help people and be one of those guys.”

His only “surprise” in wearing the uniform and badge, he says, is this: “I did not expect to handle the vast variety of situations I find myself handling daily. This may be the most challenging job anyone can have. I have to be so many different things – a counselor, a mediator, a protector, helping someone with a mental illness crisis, working accidents with fatalities, trying to keep everyone safe. But man, it is all so rewarding. It’s who I am.”

Tom King has been the editor of newspapers in Texas and California and also worked in Tennessee and Georgia.


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