Investigation: Knoxville Police say no crime spike around its methadone clinics

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KNOXVILLE, TN (WJHL)- Community members in Gray have long been concerned that opening a methadone clinic in Gray Commons Professional Park would increase crime in the area.

“It just lends itself to the opportunity for crime rates to increase, for people’s property to be violated or trespassed,” said Danny Sells, who is part of the local group Citizens to Maintain Gray. The group is against the proposed location of the non-profit clinic being proposed by East Tennessee State University and Mountain States Health Alliance.

Many homeowners are also concerned about an increase in accidents, citing several schools, homes, and businesses that are near the selected site. “I just don’t feel like it’d be safe, especially with kids around,” homeowner Margie Hale said back in May.

News Channel 11 took a deeper look at methadone clinics in Knoxville to see what types of crimes are being committed in the surrounding area and whether or not police have seen an increase in crime rates around the city’s two methadone clinics. Behavioral Health Group owns the two clinics, which are located minutes apart. One is located on Bernard Avenue and the other on Citico Street.

Knoxville Police Captain Don Jones is Knoxville’s West District Commander and oversees the area where the two methadone clinics are located. He said the clinics have been open for about five years and police have not seen many problems. Captain Jones said, “We’ve not seen any spike in crime in the businesses around that area. Do we have calls there? Yes, they actually have their security people call us if somebody that’s not supposed to be on their property wanders down there.”

News Channel 11 requested crime numbers within a 1,400-foot-radius of each location from May 2014- May 2016. The crime analysis for the Citico location showed Knoxville Police saw nearly 20 driving under the influence cases, 30 drug and narcotic violations and almost 40 trespassing cases. Records show the Bernard location had 3 driving under the influence cases, 8 drug and narcotic violations and 7 trespassing cases. Captain Jones said, “I could probably take any piece of Knoxville and put a 3-year call for service study down like that in a 14-hundred foot area and you would see that many dots on it. You’ve got to look at the entire area.” Jones said there are motels, liquor and convenience stores in those areas that contribute to the crime numbers.

But Captain Jones said none of those cases originated or can be traced back to the methadone clinics or its patients. “You’re looking for open-air drug sales, people bringing stolen goods in to trade for drugs with people coming out and none of that kind of activity operates around those two businesses.”

Records show Knoxville police received 91 calls for service from the clinics’ locations over the same two year period. Captain Jones said most of the reports were unfounded and the majority of them were for the buildings’ alarms going off, but none resulted in any charges. Police documents show a reported crime at the Bernard clinic’s location on January 14, 2016 for drug/narcotic violations and drug equipment violations. Knoxville Police said officers conducted a traffic stop near the clinic and arrested two people on multiple drug charges. Police said the suspects had not been to the clinic and it was the closest address available to where the suspects finally stopped for police. Records also show a license plate was stolen off a parked vehicle from the Citico clinic location in March 2015.

Captain Jones said the only real issue police have seen with the clinics is traffic congestion when the clinics first opened. “We had to deal with them with a little traffic issue and had to reroute their [traffic] some because they had quite a few people coming in and they wouldn’t allow anyone on the property until their security and their staff got there.” Jones said.

Johnson City Police Chief Mark Sirois recently spoke at a Johnson City City Commission meeting and said his department is ready to do its part if the clinic opens in the city. “We’ll do our very best to provide the best public safety that we can,” Chief Sirois said. The state of Tennessee is set to consider the ETSU, Mountain States application on Wednesday morning in Nashville.Copyright 2016 WJHL. All rights reserved.

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