About 1,000 people gathered in the park for hotdogs, hamburgers and music from Sellers Wray and the Kerbala Shrine Temple Bluegrass band. The activities were all part of Support Your Deputies Day and were sponsored by the Bud Allison Chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police.
FOP Bud Allison Chapter president Lt. Tony Rayburn said the event was to bring attention to the low pay of Blount County Sheriffs deputies and to give the public a chance to meet with deputies and see their thoughts on the future of the department.
"We invited the commissioners and mayor and assistant mayor. It was public information sharing time and it was something that has never happened," Rayburn said. "The deputies of the sheriffs office feel like were not paid as good as we should be for what we do for a living."
Rayburn said that both Alcoa and Maryville and the Tennessee Highway Patrol have instituted new pay plans that put them way beyond what the deputies make. Often those officers do the same amount or less work than the Blount County deputies, he said.
Rayburn said what concerns the F.O.P. is so many deputies are leaving for better paying jobs and it is difficult to replace them because starting pay is low. "Its a quality of life issue for the citizens of Blount County," he said.
Rayburn said that conditions could become so dire that the sheriffs office begins hire second and third tier candidates who arent as qualified as the first tier candidates because of the low pay. "The sheriffs office Im sure is going to have to look at lowering test scores to get people less qualified," he said. "We cant recruit anyone on $21,000 a year. They can make that at McDonalds."
Rayburn said the community response was strong. Many of the 1,000 people who showed up took window clings that show support for the FOP and the sheriffs office and Rayburn said hes seen the window clings on vehicles throughout the county. "I had a lot of people tell me they want the events to continue," he said. "They want us to fight because they dont want the second and third rate officers."