Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee says he agrees with state lawmakers that police oversight boards should operate without subpoena powers. He said Tuesday that he would sign the legislation, formally introduced this week, that would take away the ability of oversight boards to conduct their own investigations.
Several cities in Tennessee, including Knoxville and Memphis, have community oversight boards that have been operating for years. The Knoxville board, which was established in 1998, even has subpoena powers, like many boards around the state.
Now that Nashville is adopting an oversight board, Lee worries that cities will fundamentally change how police are investigated and disciplined.
"It's important that we keep the justice process and due process as it is," Lee told reporters. "I don't think we need to change that."
Last November, the city of Nashville overwhelmingly voted for a community oversight board that would invesitgate allegations against individual police officers, including through the use of subpoenas. Voters also limited the involvement of current and former law enforcement, and they set diversity requirements that took into account socioeconomic factors.
Republican lawmakers have proposed undoing all of those provisions. Theeda Murphy helped organize the referendum to set up Nashville's oversight board. She says the voice of the people should be heard and respected — something that she's not seeing with legislators' proposal.
"I'm continuously disappointed by Republican lawmakers who are always talking about virtues of small government and local government," she says. "The hypocrisy is astounding to me."
Supporters of Nashville's police oversight board are exploring options to prevent the legislation from passing. On Tuesday, they introduced a new campaign called "Don't Play Where You're Not Welcome" encourging soon-to-be college football and basketball athletes not to come to Tennessee universities to play.
Mayor David Briley is also condemning the legislation. He issued a statement Tuesday saying that he'll also work to ensure the will of Nashville voters is carried out and "that the city's board is expeditiously and effectively implemented."