The young teenager from neighborhoods of Belle Morris Elementary, Whittle Springs Middle and Fulton High schools in North Knoxville loved his dirt bike motorcycle and motorcycles in general. When he was 20, he had his motorcycle license. Today, he’s 46 and loves riding his Harley-Davidson Electra Glide at work.
Knoxville Police Dept. (KPD) Officer Jason Gardner is one of eight members of the KPD Blue Hawk Motorcycle Unit, a part of KPD that in 2020 celebrated its 100th anniversary. In 1920 a few of the unit’s motorcycles even had sidecars. The unit’s main duty is traffic control and its regular patrol duties, but it also stays busy, especially in the fall. The unit serves as escorts for the University of Tennessee football Vols and for the Pride of the Southland Marching Band as it marches through campus to Neyland Stadium.
They proudly escort the high-profile visitors to Knoxville – U.S. presidents and vice presidents and others. They’re always leading Knoxville’s Christmas Parade down Gay Street and are a favorite for the kids. The team also serves as escorts for the funerals of current or retired KFD officers and other city employees. “I really enjoy that aspect of what we do, providing these specialty services for the families. I love this and I’m passionate about it.”
The Blue Hawks have two officers patrolling the new Central District Monday-Tuesday and Thursday-Friday, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Two Blue Hawks also patrol the East District and four cover the West District. And a major piece of their respective “beats” are the Interstates 40 and 75 inside the city limits.
To say Gardner knows his “beat” is spot on. He’s been riding these streets and roads of Knoxville his entire life. But being a Blue Hawk was not his first job. Before joining the KPD 14 years ago, he worked for another 14 years at Sea Ray Boats as a supervisor until the company closed its two plants here in 2009, eliminating 540 jobs from its Forks in the River operations.
He wasted no time in applying to the KFD and began Police Academy in September 2009, graduated and started on patrol in 2010. He remained there for 10 years.
In 2018, the Blue Hawks had a cycle with no one assigned to it. With his love of motorcycles and riding experience, he asked for a transfer, attended “Motor School” and he’s still riding on the team today. “It was another step to take for me in the department to make an impact,” he said.
But after being at Sea Ray for so long, what caused him to join the KPD? “Well, I like the idea of helping protect our community of people who live here and work here just like my family and I do. I’ve always enjoyed people and helping them out.”
Here are some other quick facts about Gardner:
- 1995 Fulton High graduate who played football, basketball and baseball for the Falcons.
- Interestingly, he owns no motorcycles now.
- He earned a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Bethel University in 2014.
- He has certifications in Crisis Intervention, Accident Reconstruction, is on the Mobile Field Force Team and also assists in training new recruits.
- The Gardner family are members at Corryton Church.
- His family? Wife Joanne is the principal at Northwest Middle School and their blended family includes three sons and a daughter and they’re grandparents, too. “I am now married to my childhood sweetheart. We were 8 years old in the third grade, boyfriend and girlfriend at Belle Morris Elementary School. We reconnected in 2019, married on Nov. 20, 2022, and just celebrated our one-year anniversary.”
- The couple’s forever home is under construction and they’re hoping to move in during March 2024.
When he’s on the Harley, Gardner says nothing scares him. “I’ve never been in an accident or injured but I’ve had some close calls and you have to be defensive all the time. Sometimes I have to grip the grips a little tighter.”
However, he does acknowledge the dangers. “We’re always out in the open on the motorcycles and we’re easy ambush targets so we’re always on high alert and vigilant. Debris on the roads can be really scary for us and working on the interstates or chasing out there is very dangerous as well.”
One call that remains vivid was on the Asheville Highway bridge over the Holston River. It was tense and harrowing. “There was a young adult on the ledge of the bridge threatening to jump. He told us he was going to commit suicide to get away from his problems. We talked to him about his issues for 30 minutes or so but to me it felt like it was for an eternity. We finally convinced him this wasn’t necessary, and he climbed down. It was close.”
Gardner has another passion too – competing in Iron Man Marathons. How many? “Countless,” he says. He runs daily and has begun training for the 2024 IRONMAN Chattanooga on Sunday, May 19. The half-marathons include a 1.2-mile swim, 56 miles of cycling and 13.1 miles of running. The numbers are doubled in the full marathons.
“I continue to work at it and get better,” Gardner says. “I started these 10 years go and love the competition. I start training six months before the event and take one day a week off.”
He’s forever busy at work and play. “Hey, it’s what I do and I love my life.”
Tom King has been the editor of newspapers in Texas and California and also worked in Tennessee and Georgia. If you have someone you think we should consider featuring, please email him at the link with his name or text him at 865-659-3562.