The Davidson County Metro Council recently advanced an ordinance to create a citizen oversight board (COB) over the Davidson County Police Department. The ordinance is sponsored by District 5 Councilman Scott Davis, and Councilwoman-at-Large Sharon Hurt.
The ordinance is for the establishment of a board of citizens to oversee allegations of Metro Nashville Police Department misconduct against members of the public.
Nashville Organized for Action and Hope (NOAH) and the Community Oversight Now coalition has been pushing for legislation to create a COB.
“For a year, NOAH’s Criminal Justice Task Force has been working on a Community Oversight Board for police misconduct,” said NOAH in a statement. “This is simply quality control for the police department. At the moment, the police monitor themselves. Restaurants do not monitor themselves, and neither do doctors and dentists.”
The formation of the COB gained traction with the controversial killing of Jocques Clemmons at the hands of a Nashville police officer, “We just feel strongly that police should not police themselves,” said Jackie Simms, a member of Community Oversight Now. “A community oversight board provides for clarity and transparency so the community knows that justice was served.”
The ordinance calls for the appointment of eleven citizens who have not been a part of law enforcement for the last five years. Seven are to be nominated by the community, two by the Mayor’s Office, and two by the Metro Council.
The ordinance gives the COB the authority to “make policy advisory recommendations to any Davidson County criminal justice system institution, and to work with such institutions toward the implementation of such policy recommendations.”
In a statement, Police Chief Anderson said that the ordinance is not needed, and that sponsors of the proposed legislation have had no communication with him.
However, according to a Community Oversight Now spokesperson, attempts to meet with Chief Anderson have been met with silence.
“We’ve been trying to meet with the chief, but no one really wanted to respond until legislation hit the floor,” the CO spokesperson said.
In an attempt to derail the legislation, the ordinance was pulled from a group of first reading bills so it could be voted on individually.
Vice Mayor Briley who presided over the council meeting, admitted that the move was very irregular.
“We normally take first reading bills all together,” he said.
Bills are almost always passed on first reading in order to have discussion on it during the second and third reading before passage. Three White Democratic council members (Russ Pulley, Bill Pridemore, and Kathleen Murphy) in an unprecedented move attempted to have the bill deferred from first reading, despite Davis’s commitment to seek further input and discussion before the second reading.
Councilmembers Mina Johnson, Sharon Hurt, and Bob Mendes came to the defense of passing the ordinance, with Mendes excoriating the council members on how ridiculous and abnormal the proposed deferment was.
“I’m opposed to deferring that [ordinance], and I apologize. The idea of deferring it is frankly ridiculous,” said Mendes. “The last meeting we had Councilman Shulman file something that he openly acknowledged was a meaningless place holder for short term rentals and we didn’t bog that down on first reading to make sure we get substance to it. We pass things on first reading so we can get it to second reading. There is a commitment from the sponsor to have further conversation about this at second reading. We should take him at his word and pass this on first reading.”
Davis chastised his fellow Democrats. “I don’t know if we remember months ago when a large group of citizens came in here and asked for justice,” said Davis in reference to the killing of Jocques Clemmons. “I don’t know if we remember the countless meetings and people saying there was no communication. I guess people aren’t’ paying attention to what’s happening in Nashville, to what’s happening in our nation. Some of you call yourselves Democrats, and you want to defer when its time do to what people are asking for.”
After Councilman Davis’ passionate speech, the bill was passed on first reading. Davis said that the next step is to hold additional public meetings and seek more community input.
“There will be a public hearing in January for the citizens oversight board and between now and then we will be working with a coalition of community members, the Mayor’s Office, and law enforcement to amend the ordinance and get a really good working bill,” he said.
Mayor Megan Barry, who in the past has resisted previous efforts, has expressed support for the formation of an oversight board to review Metro Police conduct at a recent ‘Speak Loudly Nashville’ forum hosted by Nashville Organized for Action and Hope (NOAH).
“The change is that I’m in favor of convening a group together to have a stakeholder conversation. The difference was that just proposing legislation that wasn’t involving all the different stakeholders was something I wasn’t in support of,” Barry said. “I’m in support of bringing all these folks around a table to talk about how to address this.”
Davis contends that the ordinance is not a law enforcement unfriendly bill, but to give fair representation for law enforcement and community as well.
“I want to be perfectly clear. The vast majority of my encounters with law enforcement have been positive,” said Davis. “Ninety-eight percent of my interaction with law enforcement on the community level has been pleasant or professional. However, that two percent has been frightening and embarrassing to me.”