TBI takes a look at domestic assault and school crime, locals weigh in on findings

Brandon Paykamian • Updated Jul 2, 2019 at 5:57 PM

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation released two new studies Friday providing a statewide snapshot of crime on public school campuses and domestic violence in 2018.

While some of the findings pointed to progress, some were concerning to law enforcement and school officials. In both reports, crimes against women and girls stood out.

School Crime 2018 Report

The 2018 TBI school crime report found that the overall number of offenses reported on school campuses increased by nearly 14% from 2016 to 2018. Simple assault was the most frequently reported offense, at 37.6%. The month of September had the highest frequency of reported school crimes, the majority of which were directed at female students, who made up more than 53% of victims.

Washington County Schools Director William Flanary said much of what he read in the report was similar to what he’s noticed in the county district.

“Incidences experienced in our geographic area are much the same as reported around the state. Simple assault, theft and drug violations are prevalent, and the percent changes noted in the data are less than encouraging,” he said.

Flanary said his district, along with Johnson City Schools and others, received grants earlier this year to bolster school safety and security infrastructure. Washington County used state funding to strengthen school safety and continue working with local law enforcement.

“We're fortunate in Washington County Schools to have an outstanding partner in the Washington County Sheriff's Department. The presence of school resource officers during school and after-school events has a positive effect on negative behavior by both students and community members. We're also fortunate to have (recently) received a special grant for enhancement of school security,” Flanary said. “We used this money over the past year to increase the presence of safety technology in our schools as well as other enhancements designed to keep our students safe.”

After taking a look at the report, Johnson City Schools’ Director of Instruction and Communication Debra Bentley said officials will “continue to look at all national, state and local school safety data to ensure we have the most comprehensive safety program in Johnson City.”

“The information provided at the state and national level continue to support the efforts locally in Johnson City. We spend significant resources on preventive services to continue to promote a safe and supportive environment in Johnson City Schools,” Bentley said Tuesday.

Domestic Violence 2018 report

The TBI reported 73,568 “domestic-related” offenses in 2018, reflecting a decrease of 5.8% from 2017 to 2018. Of the reported domestic violence offenses, 49,455 of them were categorized as simple assaults. Women accounted for more than 71% of all domestic violence victims and were three times more likely to be victimized than men, according to the data. Domestic violence also played a role in 98 murders in 2018.

“The issue of domestic violence is by no means a novel problem in American society,” TBI Director David Rausch said in a press release about the report. “The persistence of domestic violence and the large number of related incidents reported to law enforcement necessitate continued awareness about this issue.”

Johnson City Police Department Chief Karl Turner said the issue always remains a challenge, particularly within the 18 to 24 age group and among couples.

“That tells us that those are formative years as far as (perceiving) what a healthy relationship is, and so that’s a population we’d like to target,” he said.

Heather Brack, the planning and research manager of the Johnson City Police Department, pointed out that Tennessee continues to be ranked in the top 10 states for the number of women killed by men, despite a decrease in domestic violence reports.

“Overall, through the department, from 2017 to 2018, we had an overall reduction in the majority of our crimes,” she said. “We saw the same kind of decline in the number of domestic violence incidents that were reported.

“Of course, domestic violence is an incredibly under-reported crime, so we don’t typically like to rely only on the reported statistics,” she said.

Danielle Ostrander, the Family Justice Center coordinator, said that while the organization always welcomes more resources, the city and county government funding has been helpful in increasing the center’s capacity to help more domestic violence victims in Johnson City.

“As far as what we have right now, it’s completely adequate. We work with multiple partner agencies, including the courts and legal aid advocates, who all do an amazing job,” she said. “Of course, you can always add more resources to the bunch to help out clients more and make it more beneficial for everybody.”