A law enforcement career that has spanned 34 years began in a tiny gasoline island pay station on Lovell Road. A gutsy girl of 17 worked the graveyard shift there alone as a cashier – midnight to 7 a.m. While passing time in the wee hours of a morning, she saw a newspaper ad. The city of Knoxville needed police officers.
She applied soon after turning 18. Today, we know this girl as Knoxville Police Department (KPD) Sgt. Tammy Mattina.
“When I saw that ad, I had in the back of my mind the officers who would drive by two or three times a night during my shift to see if I was OK in that little booth and I’d give them a thumbs up,” she remembers. “They made me feel safe and that led to where I am today. It’s something like the paying it forward idea I think.”
In the early 1980s, the city built Krutch Park adjacent to Market Square. The park is named for Charles Krutch, a painter who was known locally for his scenes of the Great Smoky Mountains and photography work on TVA projects. Few knew that Krutch was very wealthy. They found that out when he left a hefty bequest to the city for a downtown park. Part of that bequest included money for the city to hire two police officers to protect the park. One of those two positions was filled by Mattina.
Her career began in September 1985. She was given what she calls “modified police academy” training and began walking the beat downtown between 3 p.m. and 11 p.m. around and near Krutch Park and surrounding areas. It was a seven-days-a-week assignment and on two of the days she walked the beat alone. For three years she was a “Mall Master Special Officer.”
During that time, in November 1986, she began the full-blown KPD Police Academy. Then it was back to patrol, then five years in the Criminal Investigations Division (CID) as a detective and in 1998 back to patrol until 2006 as a supervisor. Then it was to CID for six years as a supervisor. In 2012 she became part of KPD’s Safety Education Division.
“I’ve loved it all. I don’t have a favorite job or assignment. I’ve learned that you take the assignment and make the most of it,” she says.
Twice she has been honored as KPD’s Officer of the Month and also won a Community Service Award in 2018 for a literacy initiative she created. Back in 2006 she and two other KPD detectives were honored as Officers of the Year by the Tennessee Association of Police Chiefs for their work impacting the thefts of catalytic converters from cars.
She has been supervisor of KPD’s Safety City off Concord Street since Aug. 2. Safety City provides a program for second-graders that teaches them about vehicular, pedestrian, bicycle and fire safety. The skills help youngsters avoid needless accidents and instill good safety habits. The kids receive “hands-on” safety education within a child-size setting complete with buildings, paved streets and sidewalks, working traffic signals and traffic signs. They even drive miniature cars.
Wednesday, Sept. 11, will be Safety City’s 18th anniversary. It opened on the day the World Trade Center towers came down.
Mattina plans to keep the job until her retirement in 2020. She does not talk about Safety City without mentioning Officer Lori Banks. “She really runs Safety City and has for the past three years. She does all of the work and she’s incredible at her job.”
Mattina was picked by KPD Chief Eve Thomas to be the interim public information officer (PIO) for six months after Darrell DeBusk left to join the FBI. That job lasted until Scott Erland became the full-time PIO.
“I’ve always had a servant’s heart and I’ve always liked to take care of people.” Mattina says. She enjoys interacting with different people. “I like to showcase and talk with them about the profession and how proud I am to be able to serve.”
During these 34 years she’s also managed to have twin boys who are 25 and just home after serving five years in the U.S. Marine Corps. She also has a 14-year-old daughter. And she’s also earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in criminal justice from Columbia Southern University.
Her husband, Joey, is a KPD patrol officer. They are members of Northstar Church.
She also has a second job. As manager of 5-0 Talent Co., which produces and films law enforcement reenactment shows for Knoxville-based Jupiter Entertainment, Mattina finds local officers to perform on the shows. She also performs when needed.
Tammy is a Knox County native, the daughter of Trudy and the late James Byrd. She grew up on the family’s horse farm in Powell and was a barrel-racing trophy winner between ages 5-9. “Yep, I had a beautiful polyester matching cowgirl suit,” he recalls. “Those were the days.”
As a veteran KPD officer, she reacted to the controversy that erupted this summer after a veteran sergeant drew figures on a white board and explained during a roll call how officers could have women perform a sex act on them. Part of the investigation involves an alleged coverup of this incident by senior officers.
She didn’t dodge the question: “There’s an internal investigation going on and I don’t jump to conclusions. But I’ve been around for 34 years and I’m not surprised by much,” she said.
Editor’s Note: This is part of a weekly series – Our Town Heroes – highlighting 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 we need to feature, please email Tom King or call him at (865) 659-3562.