Nashville’s police chief is facing consistent criticism from the leading mayoral candidates, including one who says he should leave his position.
Carol Swain, a retired Vanderbilt University professor, has taken the firmest stance against police Chief Steve Anderson. At a televised forum this week, Swain said she’s talked to police officers who say there’s low morale in the department.
Anderson started receiving more public criticism in recent years about how the police have handled some officer-involved shootings.
“It’s not just about what happened with the shootings and Chief Anderson," Swain said. "He has lost the respect of many of his men. He’s been chief long enough, and we need change.”
A police department biography says Anderson is a 43-year veteran of the department who has served as chief since 2010.
Swain says she would create a committee to choose a new chief. She’d serve on that committee, along with department representatives.
Her stance has been consistent since at least May, when the Nashville Scene noted how Swain stands apart from her competitors. In an interview with WPLN, Swain also noted that she believes there are members of the police department who could be chief, as well as former Metro officers who have gone on to other departments.
Other candidates have been more hesitant about expressing their feelings on the chief. At Tuesday's forum, At-Large Councilman John Cooper declined to speak on him directly, instead saying the department in general is in trouble. He has said previously that he wouldn’t make a rash decision.
Rep. John Ray Clemmons was critical of policing culture in Nashville and referred to a “failure of leadership” in the department but suggested he would decide the chief’s role only if he became mayor.
“No one is guaranteed a job in my administration,” Clemmons said.
The candidates have been asked about Anderson because of a string of difficulties for the department.
Among them: two fatal shootings that have drawn intense scrutiny, with one officer awaiting trial on a first-degree murder charge. Two separate studies have exposed racial disparities in the frequency of traffic stops — calling into question whether stops can decrease crime. A survey by the local police union, first reported by the Nashville Scene, also showed morale challenges and discomfort with Anderson’s approach on discipline.
Those hurdles followed what had been a wave of good press for the chief, including national attention on Anderson’s welcoming attitude toward demonstrators.
Only current Mayor David Briley said outright that he supported Anderson, and even he sought to distance himself a little. Briley said he doesn’t "agree 100%" with Anderson’s decisions — "but I support him."