State Sen. Thelma Harper listens during her community meeting on how the TBI and corrections department impact her community. Photo by Clint Confehr

By Clint Confehr

NASHVILLE, TN — The Tennessee’s Bureau of Investigation sees more victims than sex workers, the bureau director said before Sen. Thelma Harper’s community meeting as she asked why prostitution is escalating.

TBI Director Mark Gwyn and Special Agent Thomas Farmer told nearly 70 people at Shrader Lane Church of Christ last week about illegal drugs and how the TBI and Department of Correction impact Harper’s constituents.

“We want to know what’s causing prostitution … it’s escalation,” Harper told the Tribune. “We want to look at … what can we change … It’s been around for a long time, but when you see young women participating, it’s time for us to say something.”

Gwyn said, “We’ve got an initiative … on human trafficking. We do see prostitution … We are finding … there’s a lot more … trafficking than what we envisioned, so we continue to work on that… In that, we will uncover some prostitution.”

Internet listings reduced so-called street-walking, he said. Trafficking is a result of force, fraud and coercion.

“In the past, we have mistakenly arrested people for prostitution who were being trafficked,” Gwyn said. “That’s something we … have to be cognizant of and do deeper investigation when we come in contact with these ladies.”

It’s not a victimless crime, he said. The women are victims. That’s how they’re treated.

Personal safety is a concern, Harper and her constituents said.

“I can’t believe we have young people who are killing each other … and thinking nothing about it,” Harper told WTVF. It didn’t happen “in yester-years” when adults were culprits and victims.

While the bureau is, in some respects, progressive, Gwyn’s practical approach to policing elicited muffled laughter when he said, “At the end of the day, some people need to go to jail.”

Davidson County Property Assessor Vivian Wilhoit asked Gwyn about street killings. Gwyn replied, “Cartels are starting to marry-up with gangs.”

Gwyn and Farmer spoke at length about drug trafficking. Using sugar in a plastic bag, Farmer explained how wholesale drugs are cut for resale and are deadly.

“I think we’ll see cocaine comeback just as we did heroin,” Gwyn said.

Thursday night’s audience included a man who said, “Neighborhoods are as safe as they want to be.” Gywn sought public support for investigations that are more independent than generally perceived.

“When we hear so much in today’s media about the rule of law, how you can’t fire a person who’s investigating you,” Gwyn said in an apparent reference to Donald Trump’s displeasure with Attorney General Jeff Sessions, “I can say our legislature … got it right.”

TBI authority increased after former Gov. Ray Blanton was suspected of accepting bribes for pardons and convicted of extortion when selling liquor licenses. The TBI director is appointed to six-year terms, can’t be removed by the governor, and may only be impeached by lawmakers for criminal wrong-doing.

The bureau investigates whoever for whatever, he said, inviting people to join the TBI’s citizen’s academy to learn about the bureau.

Clint Confehr

Clint Confehr — an American journalist since 1972 — first wrote for The Tennessee Tribune in 1999. His news writing and photography in South Central Tennessee and the Nashville Metropolitan Statistical...

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