Nashville Mayor John Cooper unveiled plans Friday for a new commission to reduce police use of force and reimagine public safety. It’s part of a nationwide call to action from former President Barack Obama in response to George Floyd’s killing and the protests that followed.
A diverse group of local leaders will be digging into the department’s training, policies and community interactions. And Cooper has recruited some big names in the city, including former Mayor Karl Dean and Judge Richard Dinkins, a renowned civil rights activist, who will spearhead the group.
But the commission, which has been in the works for a few weeks now, is already facing scrutiny.
First, there’s the issue of so-called task force fatigue. Some people say they’re tired of rehashing the same traumas over and over again, without a guarantee that anything will change.
“It feels like we’re doing things that we’ve already done before,” Community Oversight Board Vice Chair Jamel Campbell-Gooch said at a board meeting in late June, a few days after the mayor first announced his plans to form a use-of-force commission. “It seems to be an extreme disconnect, because mayors previously have done this before.”
With the mayor’s office changing hands three times in as many years, similar work regarding police reform has been replicated by subsequent administrations. Former Mayors Megan Barry and David Briley both partnered with community members and policing experts to discuss issues facing the Metro Nashville Police Department, including teen violence, body cameras and traffic stops.
“It just feels like we’re running on a treadmill,” Campbell-Gooch said.
Cooper has asked the new commission to produce a report as quickly as possible — and no later than October, when he plans to pick a new police chief. He says their recommendations will play a central role in the interviewing process and serve as a blueprint for the department’s next leader.
In a letter, Cooper asked commission members to recognize what the police department does well and also identify where it falls short. He said the group would be split into three committees: one focused on community relations, one on the department’s recruitment and retention strategies, and one on training and policies.
“Individual police officers did not make these policies. They did not decide to invest — or not invest — in behavioral health services, housing and education. Elected officials did. But police officers have had to deal with these consequences,” Cooper wrote. “It is time to rethink that.”
Past struggles over records
It’s unclear how much power the commission will really have. The mayor asked the oversight board’s research team to lead their review of police use of force weeks ago. Such an endeavor requires a thorough analysis of department records, including the reports that officers fill out after using force.
But MNPD has already denied several dozen of their records requests, saying the documents are part of an ongoing investigation or can’t be shared because they include information about juveniles. Getting records has been a continuing issue for the COB, which has agreed to keep all necessary materials confidential but still doesn’t have the same guaranteed access as other law enforcement agencies, like the district attorney’s office.
Oversight Executive Director Jill Fitcheard compared the dispute over records to “Groundhog Day” at a meeting earlier this week.
“My concern here is that these use-of-force reports are important to the work that we do,” she said. “And, when they continue to deny us these records, it raises many flags, in my opinion, that they don’t want us to see what’s in these reports. And I’m super concerned about that.”
The COB is hoping to reach a new agreement with the police department that builds on the powers established in a memorandum of understanding between the two agencies earlier this year. They’ve also asked to the Metro Council to create a process to approve subpoena requests from the oversight board, which will be voted on next week.
The members of the commission include:
- Karl Dean, co-chair of Police Policy Commission, former mayor and public defender of Nashville
- Richard Dinkins, TN co-chair of Police Policy Commission, judge on the Court of Appeals for the State of Tennessee
- Ashlee Davis, vice president, AllianceBernstein, chair of the Community Oversight Board
- Phil Ponder, former councilmember
- Beth Seigenthaler Courtney, managing partner at Finn Partners
- Russ Pulley, Metro Council’s Public Safety Committee chair
- Bob Fisher, Belmont University president
- Whitney Washington, political director of Stand Up Nashville
- Melissa Blackburn, judge of Division II General Session Court
- Bob Allen, SWAT team instructor
- David Esquivel, founding member of Bass Berry
- Mac Huffington, founder and owner of Mac Productions
- LeShaun Oliver, captain with Vanderbilt University Police Department
- Juliana Ospina Cano, executive director of Conexión Américas
- Margie Quin, CEO of End Slavery Tennessee
- Robert Sherrill, CEO and founder of Imperial Cleaning Systems/ Impact Youth Outreach
- Chris Jackson, pastor of Pleasant Green Baptist Church
- Sabina Moyhuddin, executive director of the American Muslim Advisory Council
- Phreadom Dimas, youth leader at the Oasis Center
- Darrell Talbert, president of ICON Entertainment
- Larry Woods, chairman of Wood & Woods Attorneys at Law
- Jimmy Greer, pastor of Friendship Missionary Baptist Church
- Tom Turner, president and CEO of the Nashville Downtown Partnership
- Reggie Miller, president of the National Black Police Association’s Nashville chapter
- Nawzad Harami, manager of the Salahadeen Center
- Meera Reddy Balal, founder of the Women’s Healthcare Initiative
- David Fox, financial markets trader and former chairman of the Nashville Board of Public Education
- Rachel Freeman, president and CEO of the Sexual Assault Center
- Clifton Harris, president and CEO of the Urban League of Middle Tennessee
- Torry Johnson, former district attorney of Metro Nashville and Davidson County
- Demetria Kalidemos, executive producer of the Nashville Banner
- Lonnell Matthews, clerk of Davidson County Juvenile Courts
- Amanda Lucas, licensed clinical social workers and criminal justice member of Nashville Organized for Action and Hope (NOAH)
- Bruce Maxwell, pastor of Lake Providence Baptist Church
- Sharon K. Roberson, president and CEO of the YWCA
- Larry Turnley, violence interrupter with Gideon’s Army
- John R. Faison, pastor of Watson Grove Missionary Baptist Church
- Manuel Delgado, owner of Delgado Guitars
- Gary Moore, former councilmember, retired Nashville firefighter and officer with IAFF Local 140
- Worrick Robinson, member of Robinson, Regan and Young PLLC
- Eli Foster, blue-ribbon MNPS teacher
Samantha Max is a Report for America corps member.