Gibbons: Making sense of state rankings

Gibbons: Making sense of state rankings

October 12th, 2013 by By Bill Gibbons in Opinion Columns

Gov. Bill Haslam's overriding goal is to move Tennessee forward by becoming No. 1 in the Southeast for high-quality jobs. Public safety is a major factor in whether an existing business decides to expand or a potential new business chooses to locate in Tennessee.

That is why the governor created a Public Safety Subcabinet -- comprised of 11 departments and agencies within the executive branch that impact public safety -- to identify and address our state's toughest safety challenges with a specific action plan.

The Chattanooga Times page noted in an editorial on Oct. 9 that, according to the latest FBI Uniform Crime Report, Tennessee ranked No. 1 in violent crime in 2012. We, along with the FBI, caution citizens not to put too much stock in exact rankings. Some states do a much better job of reporting crime than others. Tennessee happens to utilize a very accurate and thorough system of reporting its crime figures. When it comes to rankings, the good job we do, to some degree, works to our disadvantage.

The crime rate in Tennessee is driven, in large part, by gang activity, drug abuse and trafficking, and domestic violence. Gang violence has threatened many neighborhoods in our major cities and is becoming of greater concern in smaller communities across our state. We have high levels of prescription drug abuse and methamphetamine production in our state. More than half of all reported violent crimes in Tennessee are domestically related. Chattanooga has seen the effects of all of these factors in our crime rate.

We have a statewide multi-year public safety action plan in place to drive our crime rate down. It was developed with input from law enforcement, prosecutors and victims' advocates.

With the help of the Tennessee General Assembly, we now have stronger state laws to combat domestic violence, criminal gang activity, prescription drug abuse, and making methamphetamine in the presence of children. We are expanding support to victims of domestic violence and investing more in drug treatment courts. We are moving in the right direction.

It is encouraging that reported crimes in Tennessee dropped almost eight percent in 2012 compared to 2010. And, according to preliminary data from the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, overall crime in Tennessee has decreased more than 11 percent from August of this year compared to the same time in 2012. Major violent crimes are down more than 12 percent during the same time period.

A big part of the governor's Public Safety Action Plan focuses on support for efforts at the community level to combat specific aspects of crime. In Chattanooga, as part of the governor's plan, we are working with local officials to establish a Family Justice Center to serve the needs of domestic violence victims and reduce the chances of them being caught in a cycle of violence.

Under the governor's plan, steps have been implemented that will make our state safer, and more will be implemented as we move forward. Together, we can make Tennessee as safe as it needs to be and help position communities across our state for more high quality jobs.

ABOUT THE WRITER: Bill Gibbons is commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security and chairman of the governor's Public Safety Subcabinet.