Nashville has spent 20 years mulling the idea of a civilian review board to investigate complaints against police officers. It’s most recent attempt made it farther than any other, but it collapsed on Tuesday when the Metro Council voted it down 25 to 5. But for advocates, the idea is still very much alive.
The two main groups advocating for the board, Community Oversight Now and NOAH, are still working to make it happen — though they’re working independently. The organizations split late last year after they started drafting the legislation.
Arnold Hayes, with Community Oversight now, says their group is taking stock after the bill’s defeat.
“We have to now go back and just assess our next steps,” said Hayes, who until recently was also a member of NOAH. “We’re still optimistic that one day Nashville will have a community oversight board.”
The proposal was introduced months after a fatal shooting by police last February. Supporters also cited a 2016 study which highlights the high number of stops and searches of African American drivers in Nashville as well as recommendations made by the Department of Justice.
But at Tuesday’s meeting Councilman Doug Pardue, a retired police sergeant who has publicly opposed the legislation, said there is no such problem in Nashville.
“Vanderbilt University did a study. The trustworthiness of Metro Police Department in Davidson County is 80%,” said Purdue. “And even in the minority neighborhoods — the black neighborhoods — they’re at 63%. This city don’t have no problem and we are trying to make one.”
A representative from Community Oversight Now points to that number as an indication that there is a growing divide between law enforcement and the minority communities they police.
Councilman Brett Withers, chair of the city’s Personnel Committee, said the group voted unanimously against the bill due to concern about its potential impact on other Metro employees.
“Instituting a board that purports or is even perceived to second guess civil service procedures for employees of the Metro Nashville Police Department opens the door to undermining civil service protections and procedures for all Metro employees,” said Withers.
Before Tuesday’s meeting, other council members cited legal concerns about the legislation’s scope of authority, including a clause that would have allowed the board to ask officers to comply with mediation and therapy even if they weren’t found guilty of violating policy.
Kyle Mothershead, co-chair of NOAH’s Criminal Justice Task Force, wouldn’t confirm if the group has started drafting new legislation, but said the organization “remains committed to the establishment of a civilian-led institution that will increase local democratic control over policing policy, practices, and accountability systems."
While Community Oversight Now and NOAH are not working together on reviving the proposal, both groups say they are still committed to its creation.