Tennessee had the highest rate of violent crime in the country in 2013 requiring a high-level law enforcement activity. In addition, the state has highly active homeland security operations. Over l,000 law enforcement officers participated in homeland security and counterterrorism missions in Tennessee in 2010.
The FBI has three Joint Terrorism Task Forces (JTTFs) active in the state. Both Memphis and Nashville have been designated as potential terrorist targets by the federal government.
Tennessee has a history of domestic terrorist activity. In 2004, a former member of the National Socialist Movement planned to detonate a dirty bomb to blow up a courthouse. Thanks to a concerned citizen, the FBI was able to foil the plot by selling him what he thought were explosives and a nerve toxin.
The state is traversed by a number of interstate and local highways that facilitate the transshipment of drugs through the state. The ease of transportation and high volume of traffic in the state has also raised concerns that it could entail additional security risks.
Anti-terrorism efforts by law enforcement officers are now being focused on highways in addition to airports. Tennessee was the first state in which the TSA deployed Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response (VIPR) operations at weigh and bus stations in addition to having agents at airports.
Federal Law Enforcement in Tennessee
Nearly 1,200 federal officers had the authority to carry firearms and make arrests in Tennessee in 2008. The security situation of the state provides a number of avenues for federal careers in law enforcement with nearly fifty federal law enforcement agencies active in Tennessee.
One key attribute to joining the ranks of federal law enforcement is to have at least a bachelor’s degree. This is the minimum educational requirement for many federal law enforcement jobs with many agents having advanced degrees. The field of criminal justice is a common topic of study among prospective law enforcement agents.
Federal agents receive a high level of training before they are deployed in the field. Typically such training entails rigorous academic work in addition to a high level of physical conditioning. Agents are also trained to be highly proficient in the use of firearms.
FBI – FBI agents in Tennessee have worked some extremely high profile cases. With the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in Memphis, local agents almost immediately identified James Earl Ray as the assassin. Knoxville agents interrogated Jimmy Hoffa for jury tampering before his disappearance.
Civil rights violations were common in the 1960s, and the Bureau was active in investigating these types of crimes. In 1963, almost 25% of the manpower of the Memphis bureau was devoted to civil rights and racial matters.
FBI agents have investigated such sensitive issues as political corruption in Tennessee, leading to the conviction of former Governor Leonard Ray Blanton. Such cases consumed about half of the work hours of the Memphis Division during the 1980s.
One case alone in 2013 involved the theft of almost $1 million worth of equipment from the General Motors Spring Hill plant by a single individual. A forklift operator for the company was identified when he placed some of the items for sale on eBay.
DEA – Federal authorities consider drug trafficking in Tennessee to be at levels high enough to have two High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) designations in the state. As part of the Appalachia HIDTA, the DEA has the following task forces active in Tennessee:
- DEA South Tennessee Task Force
- DEA Upper East Tennessee Task Force
- Rocky Top DEA Task Force
As with much of the country, prescription drug abuse has been reaching epidemic proportions in Tennessee. One tragic result of this is the increase in the number of babies being born addicted to prescription drugs. In 2013, Tennessee officials predicted that 800 such babies would be born in the state.
DEA agents routinely make significant busts in Tennessee, frequently in partnership with other law enforcement agencies. Significant DEA arrests in 2013 included the following:
- The federal arrest of a sheriff’s deputy for trafficking cocaine.
- The arrest of a DEA fugitive who was involved in a meth lab.
- The arrest of a Greyhound bus passenger for transporting ice, cocaine, and marijuana.
Interagency Large Scale Arrests – Both the FBI and the DEA work closely with local law enforcement officers and those of other federal agencies to disrupt major criminal conspiracies in Tennessee. Major operations in 2013 included the following:
- The indictment of 32 people on federal drug and gun violations. Other federal agencies involved included the ATF and US Marshals.
- The disruption of a major cocaine trafficking organization with 58 federal indictments against 19 people. ATF and ICE were involved in disrupting this operation, along with a large number of state and local law enforcement agencies.
Federal Law Enforcement Offices in Tennessee
- Chattanooga Satellite Office
- Jackson Satellite Office
- Johnson City Satellite Office
- Knoxville Satellite Office
- Memphis Satellite Office
- Nashville Field Division
- Field Offices, Field Intelligence Groups, JTTFs
- Resident agencies and satellite offices
- Johnson City
- Nashville (and JTTF annex)
- Oak Ridge
- Alcoa (McGhee Tyson Airport