Police Chief Noel gets to know SoKno

Betsy PickleOur Town Leaders, South Knox

Paul Noel, Knoxville’s new police chief, is getting to know the city just like any other newcomer these days – struggling to find a house.

“There’s a house we loved that we wanted to rent,” Noel said. “We called about it about 25 times. It was already rented.”

Tommy Smith, Regis Borsari, Annabel Henley and Paul Noel enjoy meeting and greeting at CommonPlace.

The home was in South Knoxville, not far from CommonPlace Coffee & Community, the Chapman Highway business where he had a meet and greet Monday with South Knoxvillians alongside First District City Council representative Tommy Smith. Many of the attendees were encouraging him to keep looking south of the river, pointing to the Urban Wilderness, Ijams Nature Center and the numerous parks as lures for the chief, who said his family loves spending time outdoors.

“I really like this part of the city,” said Noel, who ended up renting another place for himself, wife Rachel, a physical therapist, and their 3-year-old daughter. His family will be departing New Orleans to join him this weekend.

Starting off with a rental is “a great opportunity to check out the whole city – where we want to go to church, different things like that. It’s nice not to have to rush. Plus, I’m working about 18 hours a day right now.”

Chief Paul Noel speaks with Monte Stanley of the Old Sevier neighborhood.

Since his first day on the job, Monday, June 13, Noel has thrown himself into his work – evaluating the department, acquainting himself with the city and getting to know the officers.

“I think there are a lot of things we can do to enhance it,” he said of the department. “I’m very impressed with the dedication and passion of the officers.”

He’s getting to know them one on one.

“I did a ride-along on Thursday, and I drove all through South Knoxville with an officer, from about 7 p.m. till midnight,” he said. “We went everywhere. (I’m) just trying to get to know the city but also see it through the eyes of the officers as well, see some of the challenges they’re facing. That’s something I’m going to do on a regular basis.”

CommonPlace owner Eli Cockrum and Vestal leader Eric Johnson have a “you are here” moment.

He says when he rides with an officer, he gets “that narration … of their understanding of the problems and the challenges – the good, the bad and the ugly. That helps me really understand everything about the city that I’m going to need to know. You can’t get that all in one dose. Also, it gives me a chance to learn about the officers, but probably the most important piece is they get to learn about me as well.”

At Monday’s event, Noel took the time to listen to and talk with South Knoxvillians one on one as well. He answered questions thoughtfully, but he also showed a sense of humor.

The first difference he learned between Louisiana and Tennessee is “no hurricanes.” That’s a plus. He also likes that East Tennessee has four seasons.

“But you know, there are a lot of similarities,” said Noel, whose surname is pronounced Christmas-style. “The Old City reminds me a lot of New Orleans, so I really like the Old City area. Other differences – hills are probably the biggest thing.”

Janice Tocher and Ann Strange point to their respective neighborhoods on the South Knoxville map at CommonPlace.

Not surprisingly, considering the climate he hails from, he’s amused by locals complaining about the June heat. When it’s suggested that he ought to tell them to “chill,” he says, “Speaking of chillin’, I’ve pretty much had to wear a jacket, it’s been so cold up here. I can’t wait for the real heat to come so I can warm up a little.”

Noel is looking forward to becoming part of Knoxville and sharing new ideas here.

“You have a great community, a really strong community, a really good group of police officers,” he said. “I’m just super excited to be here, I really am.”

Betsy Pickle is a freelance writer and editor who particularly enjoys spotlighting South Knoxville.

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