This story was updated at 6:30 p.m.
Nashville Police Chief Steve Anderson is retiring after 10 years leading the department, Mayor John Cooper announced this morning.
“Chief Anderson, who has served the city honorably in this role since 2010, will retire at the conclusion of our national search and hiring process,” Cooper said in a statement. “Over the next several months, my office will organize input from the entire community as we find the right leader for this next chapter of community safety in Nashville.”
Cooper wrote on Twitter that his search committee will also consider internal candidates from the Metro Nashville Police Department.
“We need to find the best chief for Nashville,” he wrote. “To serve and protect is the greatest calling.”
The news comes as thousands of Nashvillians have taken to the streets over the past few weeks, protesting police brutality and systemic racism in law enforcement. About 200 residents also called into a recent Metro Council meeting, urging lawmakers to cut funding to the department — though the council ultimately voted this week to increase next year’s police budget.
Additional funding was also allocated in the FY21 budget to equip all police officers with body cameras, which officials first promised to do nearly four years ago.
Gicole Lane, who helped to spearhead the Nashville People’s Budget Coalition, which asked city leaders to defund the police department, says Anderson’s departure is long overdue. Her uncle, Timothy Lamont Lane, was killed by a Nashville police officer several years before Anderson became chief.
Chief Anderson should have been long gone, and also we won’t be distracted! SHOW US THE MONEY @JohnCooper4Nash! You undermined thousands of Nashvillians to increase MNPD’s budget! Our demand is still clear: DEFUND THE POLICE, INVEST IN BLACK COMMUNITIES! @nashpplsbudget
— Gicola A. Lane (@GicolaLane) June 18, 2020
The city is now in the process of reviewing the MNPD’s use-of-force policies, as part of former President Barack Obama’s Mayor’s Pledge.
Cooper’s office is also working to smooth the relationship between MNPD and the Community Oversight Board, a new Metro agency tasked with investigating allegations of police misconduct. Anderson and oversight staff have repeatedly butted heads since the agency was formed last year.
The pressure has mounted in recent weeks to replace Anderson. Last weekend, a crowd of protesters outside the Capitol chanted in a call and response: “Who’s gotta go?” “Chief Anderson!”
“[I]t is time for Mayor John Cooper to call for the resignation of Metropolitan Nashville Chief of Police Steve Anderson in order to create meaningful policy and behavioral change in the Metropolitan Nashville Police Department,” the lawmakers wrote.
These calls for Anderson to step down aren’t new.
They bubbled to the surface in 2016, when grassroots criminal justice reform group Gideon’s Army published the Driving While Black report, which found that black residents were pulled over by police at disproportionate rates. And the demands grew louder in 2017 and 2018, when Jocques Clemmons and Daniel Hambrick, two young black men, were shot within two years of each other, while running away from traffic stops.
“Anderson feels like he’s untouchable, unstoppable,” says Sheila Clemmons Lee, Jocques Clemmons’ mother.
Clemmons Lee has pushed for major changes at the police department since her son was killed, which she says haven’t always come. But she says something has felt different since a Minneapolis police officer killed George Floyd last month, sparking nationwide protests.
“Everything that I’ve done and am still doing is making people more aware, and eyes are opening,” she says. “Even the council members, their eyes are finally being opened. It’s time to make changes.”
A career mixed with criticisms and praise
But Anderson’s 10 years as police chief have earned him praise as well. He’s been lauded for his professionalism and for reforming the department’s use of traffic stops. He made national news for encouraging officers to hand out hot chocolate during early Black Lives Matter protests in the winter of 2014.
Council member Freddie O’Connell says Anderson “brought a new professionalism” to the department and thanked the chief for his service.
Chief Anderson brought a new professionalism to @MNPDNashville. His tenure, which helped develop new leadership, coincided with a measured drop in violent crime. I thank him for his service to Nashville.
Now we must look ahead to a new era of continued progress in public safety. https://t.co/bQ4VWzIRef
— Freddie #StayHome O'Connell (@freddieoconnell) June 18, 2020
Anderson was also recently appointed to the board of directors of the Police Executive Research Forum, a D.C.-based think tank that helps law enforcement agencies implement reforms. In 2016, he received PERF’s Leadership Award, which recognizes “individuals who have made outstanding contributions to the field of law enforcement, and who exemplify the highest principles and standards of true leaders in policing on a national level,” according to a newsletter from the time.
“I want the community to celebrate his 10 years as chief,” Mayor Cooper said after announcing Anderson’s retirement at a press briefing Thursday morning. He said Anderson served much longer than most big-city chiefs, and that the city would take its time to find the best replacement, with Anderson remaining in his role in the meantime.
When asked whose choice it was to have the chief retire, the mayor’s office said in an email: “Mayor Cooper owns this decision, but Chief Anderson fully supports it.” Anderson declined an interview request.
Cooper expects the search for a new top officer to take about six months and said he hopes the process will bring the community together.
“The chief’s departure does not necessarily cure what we need to get done, in terms of community relations and the fulfillment of equal justice under law in Nashville, Tenn. That’s a goal. Few cities really live up to it,” the mayor said. “We want to live up to it here. It’s a great moment to rededicate us to that.”
The Community Oversight Board said in a statement that it hopes to play a role in the hiring process of a new chief.
“The voice of the community must be reflected early and often during the national search and selection process, and the needs and values of the people of Nashville should be heavily considered and heard,” the board wrote.
But local activist Jamel Campbell-Gooch, who serves as vice chair of the Community Oversight Board, also called the change in leadership “a day late and dollar short.”
ANNOUNCEMENT: Chief Anderson retired via @JohnCooper4Nash. Now we demand our Community Oversight Board have the power to fire & hire the next Chief. We still have the same oppressive system that has killed & criminalized our Black folx for generations. More community power now!
— Jamel Campbell-Gooch (@nashvillered) June 18, 2020
Campbell-Gooch has witnessed tensions between the police chief and the oversight group. Still, he thinks the distrust between police and residents extends beyond the actions of any one chief. He wants the city to take a completely new approach to public safety.
“Any chief, in any position, is going to be destructive, unless we radically think about changing the way our city views public safety and actually invest in safe communities, by way of healthcare, childcare, livable wage, mediation programs and fully funded schools,” he says.
“I don’t know what the next chief can do at all, because there’s still a fundamental difference to what the people see as the direction that the city should be going and what our public officials — some of our public officials — see as the direction that our city should be going.”
Samantha Max is a Report for America corps member.