News release from Department of Safety:
NASHVILLE — The Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security today announced that the average wait time at state driver services centers has decreased so far this year compared to 2012.
The average wait time from January 1 – June 30 at centers statewide, excluding reinstatement centers, fell from 34 minutes in 2012 to 31.5 minutes in 2013. There was a slight increase, however, from the first quarter of 2013 in which the average wait time was 30.5 minutes compared to the second quarter when the wait time averaged 32 minutes.
The decrease in wait time for the first six months happened while the number of statewide transactions at driver services centers increased. Driver license examiners served 621,405 customers from January 1 – June 30, 2012. In the first six months of 2013, the number of customers grew to 626,211.
“We are monitoring these figures very closely. Reducing the wait time at our driver service centers is a priority so when we experience an increase we act immediately to identify the reasons,” Commissioner Bill Gibbons said.
The average wait time at driver service centers in the state of Tennessee for the first quarter of 2013 was nearly 32 minutes, which is up six minutes from the last quarter of 2012, reports Nooga.com.
These figures, released by the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security Wednesday, also show that the number of statewide transactions increased to 327,114 in the first quarter of 2013, compared to 295,444 in the last quarter of last year.
But the wait time for the first quarter of 2013 is slightly lower than the average wait time for last year’s first quarter, when the average was closer to 33 minutes.
“We are committed to reducing wait times at our driver service centers,” Commissioner Bill Gibbons said in a prepared statement. “We are concerned about the uptick in wait times, especially after making such great progress in the last three months of 2012. But we are taking proactive steps to help reverse this trend and help create a more satisfying experience for our customers.”
Gibbons also said that the increase was because of an increase in handgun permit applications, vacant management positions at several driver service centers and equipment failures. Meanwhile, in other news….
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The state is closing its driver license center in Lawrenceburg.
An announcement from the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security said operations will be merged with the driver service center in Columbia on May 15.
There will be, however, a self-service kiosk in the City of Lawrenceburg Administrative Services Building, where drivers can renew expiring licenses or apply to get lost licenses replaced. The kiosk will take photos and accept credit card and debit card fee payments.
First-time drivers or people who recently moved to Tennessee can travel to Columbia or to centers in Hardin or Lincoln counties.
The department is also working with the Wayne and Giles county clerks to offer license renewal and replacement services in those counties.
Tennessee Safety Commissioner Bill Gibbons said Tuesday that the state’s DUI laws have received so many additions over the years that they are in need of streamlining, which he may ask lawmakers to do, according to Richard Locker. “What we’re looking at is trying to possibly streamline our DUI laws. Right now our DUI law is 58 pages long. That’s compared to an 18-page first-degree murder death-penalty statute. So it’s very complicated,” Gibbons said after a speech to Southeastern law enforcement officials meeting in Nashville this week.
“What’s happened over many, many years is that it’s simply been added to and as a result, we have a patchwork, Band-Aid approach to our DUI law. What we’re trying to do is really streamline it, make it more understandable for prosecutors, defense lawyers and, most important, citizens.”
Gibbons, a former Shelby County district attorney general, said he expects that decisions will be made within a couple of months on what kind of DUI proposals will be presented to the state legislature in January.
In addition to streamlining the existing law, Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration will also decide whether to propose additional measures to strengthen the law — such as whether to require DUI convicts to undergo mandatory treatment for alcohol abuse.
By Eric Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Safety Commissioner Bill Gibbons said Tuesday that he had to send strong signals early in his tenure of heading the Tennessee Highway Patrol that the election of a new governor would not lead to favoritism for certain troopers.
In a speech to a group of Southeastern law enforcement officials, Gibbons said that Republican Gov. Bill Haslam insisted after his election in 2010 that only performance and merit should influence promotions and assignments.
“I’ll be honest, there was some people who were kind of surprised at that early on,” said Gibbons, who previously served as the top prosecutor in Shelby County.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee’s safety department is creating a new unit to investigate identity theft crimes that local law enforcement agencies don’t have the resources to target.
Commissioner of Safety and Homeland Security Bill Gibbons announced on Tuesday that the 14-member unit would be made up of personnel from the Tennessee Highway Patrol, the state Office of Homeland Security and the Driver Services division.
The unit will also work with the U.S. Secret Service in Memphis and Nashville, the federal Homeland Security Investigations department and the FBI’s Memphis division.
Gibbons said identity theft and fraud crimes are a growing problem in Tennessee, but many local law enforcement agencies don’t have enough resources or manpower to investigate these crimes.
“When you go to local law enforcement agencies across the state, they will pretty much tell you that identity crime is one of the toughest types of crimes for them to investigate,” he said. “Very few police departments have investigators that have the expertise to investigate these types of crimes.”
The Tennessee Highway Patrol trooper fired for driving past a fatal wreck lost his first bid to save his job Tuesday, reports Matt Lakin. Safety Commissioner Bill Gibbons turned down Trooper Charles Van Morgan’s appeal, calling Morgan’s behavior “a poor representation” of the agency.
“We have a responsibility to serve the state of Tennessee with professionalism, honesty and integrity, and we will not tolerate the actions of those who fail to do so,” Gibbons said.
Morgan had worked for nine years for the state Department of Safety and drew an annual salary of $49,344. He lost his job after internal investigators determined he slowed down but didn’t stop when he drove by the Nov. 26 wreck on Andersonville Pike in North Knox County that killed Gordon Kyle Anito, 20.
Morgan had been chasing Anito after clocking him driving nearly 80 mph in a 40 mph zone on Emory Road just before 3:30 a.m. Tests for drugs and alcohol on Anito aren’t complete.
Video from Morgan’s cruiser showed he slowed to nearly 20 mph as he passed Anito’s 2005 Subaru Impreza, which had run off the road and hit a tree head-on. He told dispatchers he’d lost the car, drove another half-mile down the road and sat parked for nearly five minutes before he returned to a car in flames.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee’s top law enforcement officials attended a hearing in Nashville to make the public more aware of the problem of human sex trafficking in the state.
Safety Department Commissioner Bill Gibbons and Tennessee Bureau of Investigation Director Mark Gwyn heard from concerned Tennesseans and anti-trafficking groups on Tuesday.
A recent TBI report showed that over a two-year period there were about 4,000 known incidents of human trafficking in Tennessee. Gibbons said that number is probably worse because many incidents are unreported or hidden.
He said the main purpose of the hearing is to urge people to act if they see something suspicious.
Earlier this month, a three-day law enforcement seminar on human trafficking was held in Millington in West Tennessee.
Statement from Safety Commissioner Bill Gibbons, as reported by The Tennessean:
“As I noted in our conversation, based on our review of the video available to us and interviews with the troopers, we believe the troopers acted reasonably and in good faith and had probable cause to charge Mr. Meador.
“As I mentioned to you, video shows that, as other reporters were moving away from the protesters, Mr. Meador placed himself in the middle of them. To our knowledge, he had no visible media credentials. Regarding the public intoxication charge, based upon the smell of alcohol and their interaction with him, troopers understandably concluded that he was intoxicated.
“Given the circumstances, the troopers did not take Mr. Meador’s claim to be a member of the media seriously. Unfortunately, but also somewhat understandably,they did not ask Mr. Meador to produce his press credentials.
“Obviously, it was not our intention to take any member of the press doing his or her job into custody for trespassing. I regret any confusion regarding Mr. Meador’s role.”
By Lucas Johnson, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn.– Tennessee state troopers cleared out Wall Street protesters from the state Capitol grounds early Friday because they didn’t have the resources to “babysit” the overnight encampment, the state’s safety commissioner said.
Commissioner Bill Gibbons said Republican Gov. Bill Haslam’s office approved the pre-dawn roundup of protesters for refusing to comply with a new overnight curfew and permit requirements.
About 75 state troopers began moving into the Legislative Plaza a little after 3 a.m. Twenty-nine people were arrested, but a night judge refused to sign their warrants because the policy had only been in effect since the previous afternoon.
They were instead issued misdemeanor citations and released about six hours after they were arrested.
Friday’s arrests came after a week of police crackdowns around the country on Occupy Wall Street activists, who have been protesting economic inequality and what they call corporate greed.
In Oakland, Calif., an Iraq War veteran was seriously injured during a protest clash with police Tuesday night. In Atlanta early Wednesday, helicopters hovered overhead as officers in riot gear arrested more than 50 protesters at a downtown park. In San Diego, police arrested 51 people who occupied the Civic Center Plaza and Children’s Park for three weeks.
Gibbons said the policies were changed in response to deteriorating sanitary and security concerns about the protest. Members of the Occupy Nashville group had asked for enhanced protection that the state was unable to provide, he said.
“We don’t have the resources to go out and in effect babysit protesters 24-7 … at the level that would have been necessary to address their concerns,” Gibbon said.
It is unclear how the overnight curfew will be enforced against pedestrians who frequently cut through the area after leaving nearby performing arts and concert venues.
“That’s a good very question,” Gibbons said. “And we’re going to take a reasonable approach on that: Was a person knowingly and intentionally violating the curfew, or was that person just unaware of it?”
Night Court Commissioner Tom Nelson said in court that the state didn’t give the protesters the opportunity to comply with the new curfew.
“I am not criticizing the Highway Patrol, but you have no lawful basis to arrest or charge those people,” Nelson said on a courtroom video obtained by WKRN-TV.
Gibbons disagreed: “The judicial magistrate is obviously entitled to his opinion. I think it was adequate notice.”
The arrests were made about 12 hours after the state announced the new policy and erected signs around the plaza about it. Gibbons said the early morning was the least disruptive time to citizens who visit, work, and live in downtown Nashville.
Protester Adam Knight, an eighth-grade English teacher from Nashville, was among those arrested. If anything, he said the arrests galvanized the group.
“I think it was a great first step,” said Knight, 27. “We showed solidarity. I think it’s going to gain momentum.”
He said the group planned a march later Friday and would likely assemble again on the steps of the plaza, which could mean more arrests. When asked how long the group would protest, Knight responded: “As long as it has to.”
Bill Howell, a lobbyist for Tennesseans for Fair Taxation who was among the 18 men and 11 women arrested, agreed.
“It’s just completely outrageous that the state would make new rules and enforce them in less than 24 hours after they were cooked up,” said Howell, 64.
Police last removed protesters from the legislative office complex in March during discussions of anti-union bills. Seven were arrested for disrupting a Senate Commerce Committee meeting and resisting arrest but later acquitted.
Republicans and Democrats have been using different numbers in discussing the potential impact of Tennessee’s new law requiring a government-issued photo ID for voting.
For Republicans who support the law, the most-cited number is 126,000, which is the approximate number of Tennesseans who both hold a driver’s license without a photograph and are registered to vote. They will thus have to get a photo ID before voting in 2012.
Democrats who oppose the ID law prefer to say that the law could “potentially” impact 675,000 voters. That number has been questioned by some, including Safety Commissioner Bill Gibbons, whose department issues driver’s licenses. He said the number is occasionally attributed to him and he is not the source and has “no idea” where it came from.
The 675,000 was first used by Sen. Roy Herron, D-Dresden, who with the help of staff explained it on Tuesday.
Here’s the explanation: There are actually about 230,000 Tennesseans who hold a non-photo driver’s license and who are over the of age 18, including the 126,000 who are registered to vote. But those not registered to vote could register and thus could be “potentially” impacted by having to obtain a new photo ID.
Further, the 2010 U.S. Census reported Tennessee has a voting age population of 4,850,104. Meanwhile, the Department of Safety says there are 4,390,803 persons holding a driver’s license. The difference is 459,301 – people who don’t have a license, but live in Tennessee and “potentially” could be voters and thus impacted.
Add the 459,301 to the 230,000 and you get 689,301. Some, of course, may be ineligible to vote – such as convicted felons who have not had their rights restored.
“As usual, I was being conservative (with 675,000), unlike some of my radical Republican friends,” said Herron.
“Whether there are 689,000 or 730,000 or 675,000 or 475,000, there are literally hundreds of thousands of law-abiding Tennesseans who have had their right to vote taken away from them by the Legislature,” said Herron.
Blake Fontenay, spokesman for Secretary of State Tre Hargett, was invited to comment and responded with this email: “Based on the methodology used, we have a number of questions about that statistic. Does the Census data count people who vote absentee, illegal immigrants, felons who have not had their voting rights restored or people who have other forms of photo IDs besides driver licenses? We feel all those groups would have to be subtracted from the voting age population in order to get an accurate count. We have not had time to do that because our focus has been – and will continue to be – educating people about what the new law requires.”