Selecting Nashville’s Police Oversight Board Is Already A Monumental Challenge | Nashville Public Radio

Selecting Nashville’s Police Oversight Board Is Already A Monumental Challenge

Jan 17, 2019

Nashville’s Metro Council has started interviewing the group of more than 150 nominees who want to serve on the city’s new police oversight board.

Even before that group begins its work, the selection process itself has been closely watched.

The council must choose nine members before the end of the month to serve alongside two who were already selected by the mayor and approved by the council on Tuesday.

As the board forms, here are five of the latest developments.

Initial Members Chosen

Without controversy, Bob Cooper and Phyllis Hildreth were nominated by Mayor David Briley and approved by the Metro Council as the first two members of the Community Oversight Board.

Cooper is a former Tennessee Attorney General and adjunct law professor at Vanderbilt Law School. In his application, he said the board's role will be to impartially review allegations against police and to work to maintain “public confidence” in the department.

Hildreth is a vice president at American Baptist College who held several high-ranking criminal justice posts in Maryland. She wrote that public safety depends on residents being empowered to hold police accountable.

Candidate Pool Shrinks — Slightly

Initially, 182 people were nominated for the board. That number came down to 154 after a few dozen did not complete required questionnaires.

It’s still a huge number of applicants compared to what’s seen for typical Metro boards.

Among the nominees are former Metro Council members, activists, attorneys, former police officers, Nashvillians with a wide array of day jobs, immigrants and at least two parents of victims of high-profile violence.

These nominees have answered a 45-question application, with some submissions running longer than 10 pages.

Nominees are being given 10 minutes each to speak to the Rules Committee of the Metro Council. Those chats are happening in three special meetings this week, on Wednesday and Thursday night and Saturday afternoon.

Policing Sentiments Vary

In several dozen applications reviewed by WPLN, many provide neutral responses to questions — when asked why a person wants to serve and what the board should do, applicants often repeat some version of how a Metro Charter amendment defines as the board’s mission: to review police misconduct allegations and to study police policies.

But some chose to share personal experiences, including describing their own tense interactions with law enforcement.

One immigrant man from South Nashville states that his friends and neighbors are harassed by police because of their skin color. Several black Nashvillians recount instances of discrimination. And one female applicant notes that a state trooper once asked her on a date during a traffic stop.

On the flip side, there are strong supporters of law enforcement.

Several former police officers have applied, including former police chief Emmett Turner.

“Simply put, the police department must be transparent and also have open communication with the community,” Turner wrote.

Former Davidson County Public Defender Dawn Deaner also applied. Her application stands out because she describes defending people in court accused of crimes, as well as defending police officers from lawsuits during her time with Metro Legal.

How Will The Council Vote?

It’s note yet clear the precise process that the Metro Council will use when they vote on board members at a special meeting on Tuesday night.

But it won’t be a simple majority vote.

The council is required to fill the nine remaining seats from three “pools” of applicants:

  • Two seats for nominees endorsed by a council member
  • Four seats for nominees who live in economically distressed communities
  • Three seats for self- or community-nominated applicants

At the very least, the council has three votes to take — but leaders have not determined how many nominees each council member can support, and whether several rounds of voting may be needed.

“This is brand new for the council,” said Vice Mayor Jim Shulman, who has been shaping the process.

He notes that the quantity of nominees are a challenge, as well as a mandate that all council member votes must be made public, even if there are multiple rounds of voting.

Work Just Beginning

Once the board is chosen, many preliminary steps still must take place before it ever considers an allegation of police misconduct.

An executive director must be hired, along with eight other paid staff positions — all Metro employees who will work on behalf of the volunteer board.

There is also a chance of an ongoing legal challenge, as the Fraternal Order of Police has challenged whether Davidson County properly approved the referendum that voters overwhelmingly supported to create an oversight board.

The Tennessee Court of Appeals ruled against the Fraternal Order last week, but the group is trying to appeal to the Tennessee Supreme Court.