Tensions are rising between the Metro Nashville Police Department and the new civilian board tasked with overseeing it.
Members of the Community Oversight Board hoped to meet with Chief Steve Anderson earlier this week, but the chief has refused.
The board's goal is clear: to conduct independent investigations into police policies and allegations of misconduct. But without a formal agreement with the police, investigations have stalled, records requests have been denied, and board members have grown increasingly frustrated.
Anderson said he wasn't to blame for the roadblocks. In a seven-page email he sent the night before the meeting, he said it was "unnecessary" for him to attend the meeting.
Chair Ashlee Davis wasn't happy with his response.
"Chief Anderson perhaps thought, 'Let me get this out here in lieu of my absence,' " she said toward the end of Wednesday's meeting. "It actually showed cards that were inappropriate, right, and made us go, 'What is going on?' And all of us, as a board, we're very concerned."
To do its job, the board needs help from the department. That means being notified of any critical incident. It also means access to documents — lots of them — and, when the time comes, cooperation from officers under investigation.
Up to this point, the board has been navigating its relationship with the department on a case-by-case basis, trying to deal with each crisis as it arises. It's struggled to obtain public records and to gain access to the city's emergency notification system.
Chief Anderson and Community Oversight Executive Director William Weeden have both shifted the blame.
Local activist Davie Tucker urged Weeden to do whatever he can to ensure the group's success.
"You offer the best chance out of my entire life of living here of making a systemic change in the way policing is done," Tucker sais. "So I would implore you that you would exert all of your effort toward coming to the end and also operating within the total capacity of the law that established you. And — to use one of those legislative terms — the public trust demands it."
In two weeks, board members will vote on a proposed memorandum of understanding, which they hope will smooth out their partnership with police. But board members believe they might need Mayor-elect John Cooper to resolve this dispute.
"It is OK that everyone doesn't believe in the spirit and purpose of the COB," Davis said. "But it's not OK for them to stand in the way."
Samantha Max is a Report for America corps member.