Shelley DeAnn Clemons felt embarrassed and ashamed growing up in her small Iowa hometown of Clinton on the banks of the Mississippi River. Domestic violence, alcohol and drugs. She saw it all, up close and personal. And interestingly, it translated to her professional life.
Clemons left that home when she was 18. Today, she’s 54 and in her 26th year with the Knoxville Police Department.
Of those 26 years, 22 have something to do with her personal life growing up. After four years on patrol, she spent 12 years in the KPD Safety Education Unit and then 10 years in the Special Crimes Unit as an investigator. There she dealt with domestic violence, physical abuse, crimes against children, sexual abuse against children and juvenile crimes.
In Safety Education, she taught 5th graders in schools inside the city using the D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) program. She also taught life-skills course classes in middle schools.
These days you can find her at the department’s Safety City. She made that move this past December and was recently named KPD’s youth community outreach coordinator.
She also has another important job with the KPD – she is the department’s liaison with Knoxville’s LGBTQ community, a role she was appointed to in 2015 by former KPD Chief David Rausch. “I am that community’s resource at the department. It’s about connecting cultures and engaging with one another,” she explained. She’s also an internal KPD resource when officers have questions or issues and need solutions.
When she talks about all of these issues, she has a quiet but deep passion that burns through and becomes obvious.
Deputy Chief Ron Green, who is over Management Services (that includes Safety City), was quick to praise this veteran officer. “Officer Clemons is an asset to the Knoxville Police Department and the community she serves. She cares deeply about her job and the young adults within the city of Knoxville. That is why she was chosen to serve as the department’s new youth community outreach coordinator. Officer Clemons’ dedication to the Knoxville community is apparent, and she has consistently shown a willingness to serve wherever she is needed.”
Back to her days in Iowa. How did she deal with a household of abuse, alcohol and drugs. “I stayed out of the house as much as possible – sports and band and studying,” she remembers. “Played volleyball, basketball and track and I was pretty good too. I played the French horn in the band and was on the drum line and spent time at church. I sometimes wonder how in the world I made it out of that life.”
Here is what she says about her late teen years: “…. During that time my stepfather was in prison and my mother started school at the local community college to get her degree in microbiology.
My grandmother drove me to Texas to start art design school and she wanted to give me a cultural experience, so she drove a route from Iowa to Texas to expose me to the differences of Black people living between the North and the South. I had not experienced racism in Iowa as I would possibly experience it once moving to the South and she knew that. As a kid I was never exposed to any negativity from the police until the police came to my home due to domestic violence and drug dealing. The police brought peace by removing the negativity.”
She thought back to her mother and her life today: “My mother divorced my stepfather while he was in prison and she remarried a pastor. I’m happy for her.”
Officer Clemons’ dream was to be a fashion illustrator and she spent five years in Houston, Texas, doing just that, earning a degree from the Art Institute of Houston. “I found out to use my degree I’d have to move to New York or California and that was not going to happen, so I began applying to schools so I could get a degree I could use to be an art teacher.”
She had a friend who was at Knoxville College, so she applied and was accepted. “I’d never been to Knoxville and didn’t know anything about it,” she says. She came to town in 1989 and began classes and needed jobs to help repay school loans, so she worked in the school cafeteria and did security work for the college and Knox County Schools (at Austin-East High). She was in the band at Knoxville College as a majorette and also on the dance team.
The security work made her think about police work and the KPD was looking to hire minorities and females. She applied, was hired and began police academy in November 1994.
She found a job and her first and only husband, Lynn Clemons Jr., whom she met during police academy. He’s still at KPD but they divorced after 15 years. They have two sons, Jalynn, 19, a former football standout at Central High, and Jayden, 13. They, too, keep her busy.
Officer Clemons is very active in the local chapter of the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, which is heavily involved in community service. She is part of the Big Brothers Big Sisters Mentor program since KPD and BBBS adopted Sarah Moore Greene Magnet Academy. She also is a member of St. Joseph’s House of Prayer and attends Overcoming Believers Church for community outreach.
Reflecting on her career, she smiles and says, “No regrets ever. I love what I do and what our department stands for. I want to be able to engage in my community where I live. I feel that I’m doing that. I’m thankful I’ve been able to bring my personal experience growing up to this work.”
Editor’s Note: Our Town Heroes highlights Knoxville’s emergency-service professionals. Watch for this feature every Monday on KnoxTNToday, and if you have suggestions about a first responder/emergency-services professional to feature, email Tom King or call him at 865-659-3562.