Nashville Mayor John Cooper’s Policing Policy Commission has released a list of recommendations that is meant to lay the groundwork for a new model of public safety.
The 40-page report was drafted over the course of three months, with input from dozens of community members, law enforcement experts and police oversight staff.
The goal is to build trust between the Metro Nashville Police Department and community members. That starts with addressing racial disparities — both in how the community is police and who is represented within the force.
The commission suggests updates to MNPD training, new transparency measures and ways to increase diversity within the rank and file. It also sets four overarching goals for MNPD, which Cooper says will help police “reduce the use of force, build trust across all of Nashville’s neighborhoods, and enhance public safety.”
Those priorities are:
- That MNPD work with residents, neighborhood groups, nonprofit organizations, faith-based institutions, businesses, community groups and other government agencies
- That MNPD better reflect Nashville’s diverse population at every level of the department
- That MNPD work to eliminate disparities in use of force and regularly share information about use of of force with both the public and the Community Oversight Board
- That MNPD training, behavior and culture reflect a commitment to respectful relationships with all Nashvillians, regardless of race, religion, nationality or sexual orientation, especially when it comes to use of force
“As the mayor of Nashville, I enthusiastically share and support these common goals,” Cooper wrote in a letter to Nashvillians. “I look forward to presenting these goals and recommendations to our next Chief of Police, as a blueprint for a Nashville model of safety.”
Cooper says the report will serve as the agenda for MNPD’s new leader, who the mayor is expected to select any day now. Then, the onus will be on the next chief to implement the recommended changes — and on the mayor to hold the department accountable.
Some uses of force against Black Nashvillians on the rise
Finding ways to decrease police violence against civilians was a central focus for the commission.
According to the report, MNPD use of force has dropped substantially in the past two decades, from more than 750 incidents in the early 2000s to 299 in 2019. However, even as the numbers have declined, the report explains, Black Nashvillians have continued to experience police use of force — particularly canines, tasers and takedowns — at disproportionate rates. In those three categories, the commissioners write, use of force is on the rise.
More than 60% of MNPD’s 299 use-of-force incidents last year involved Black residents, the report states. In addition, it says that half of the people killed by Nashville police since 2015 were Black, even though they account for less than 28% of Nashville.
One of those incidents — the 2018 shooting of Daniel Hambrick — prompted the first murder charges brought against a Metro Police officer for an on-duty killing. Officer Andrew Delke, who is white, is scheduled to stand trial in early 2021.
The commission provided a few possible explanations for these disparities, including the demographics of neighborhoods that place the majority of 911 calls, the parts of town where most policing occurs, the nature of interactions between police and residents, and whether people follow directions or resist when officers attempt to arrest them.
However, while Black Nashvillians are overrepresented when it comes to use of force, non-white and non-male officers are largely underrepresented within the rank and file of the department. As of September, the report shows, MNPD’s sworn staff was 81% white and 89% male.
To address these disparities, as well as to build trust between police and community members, the commission set more than a dozen goals for the next chief. Some of the highlights include:
Commit to a new culture of policing that builds on the “guardian role” and partners with vulnerable communities to address community priorities and local crime patterns in order to increase safety.
Establish a co-response model to mental health crises for Nashville by creating a Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) unit in the MNPD and selecting officers interested in serving in the unit; ensure that mental health professionals serve as co-responders and, where possible, lead interventionists.
Commit to a new approach to recruitment that builds trust with Nashvillians, increases the number of people of color and women applicants through innovative recruiting strategies, and focuses on sustainable workforce outcomes.
Officially and explicitly ban “no-knock” warrants in all of MNPD materials, including its manual.
Cooperate with Metro Nashville Community Oversight to allow for quarterly, random audits of MNPD records, including arrest reports, body/dash camera footage and personnel files to determine whether racial and/or other bias appears to be a factor in arrests.
The recommendations also include suggested changes to training, including more emphasis on de-escalation, mandatory cultural competency training and more internal training about equity and inclusion. In addition, the report urges MNPD to take a harsh stance on sexual misconduct and establish a more transparent disciplinary process.
‘Not everyone agreed on every issue’
The mayor created the Policing Policy Commission in August, following weeks of nationwide protests against police brutality and systemic racism in law enforcement. He selected a group of more than 40 community members, including police reform advocates, business leaders, law enforcement officers and clergy members, to study various aspects of the police department.
The commission was divided into three sub-committees: one focused on the department’s relationship with the community, one on its recruitment and retention strategies and one on policies and training.
During weekly meetings, the groups dug through data, consulted with experts — both from law enforcement and the community — and brainstormed recommendations for the department. Each week, guests would join the committee’s virtual meetings, to share insights on particular topics of study.
Sometimes, current and former MNPD officers were called in to talk about the training academy, various policies or the department’s struggles to recruit diverse employees. Other weeks, representatives from nonprofits, various Metro agencies, outside law enforcement departments and minority communities spoke about changes they hoped to see in Nashville’s approach to policing.
At times, meetings grew contentious. Committee members didn’t always see eye-to-eye, especially when discussing more sensitive topics, such as racial disparities in promotions and MNPD’s use of military equipment.
“Not everyone agreed on every issue,” Commission co-chairs Karl Dean and Dwight Lewis wrote in the report. “However, the discussions and personal testimony heard from diverse individuals, including professionals from other cities and states, humanized the issues, helping to elevate shared perspectives and provided opportunities for closure.”
After more than 60 hours of meetings, the three committees each set forth a handful of proposals they hope the next chief will adopt in order to address current problems within the department. At the center of those recommendations are four guiding values: collaboration, diversity and inclusion, human dignity and transparency.
The authors write that the report “marks a beginning, not an end.”
“It now falls to the next chief of police, to the mayor’s office, the Metro Council and the public at large to ensure that the goals set by this commission are achieved,” the group writes, acknowledging that the recommendations will likely lead to disagreements. “What this commission wants most of all — and believes Nashville needs — is a Nashville model of policing. Now is the time for the real work of building that to begin.”
Samantha Max is a Report for America corps member.