The five finalists for Nashville’s police chief made their case during broadcast interviews Thursday, revealing similarities between the candidates that include a history of reform within their respective departments.
All of the candidates said there’s a broken relationship between the community and police, and that it will take hard work to regain their trust. They said they’d make community relationships a priority, before there’s a crisis.
Each says he or she would support the Community Oversight Board. They also stressed the importance of de-escalation training, more diversity within the rank and file and close relationships with residents.
One surprise came when Interim Chief John Drake answered a question about the use of tear gas during a protest in May. Drake says he was the one who made the recommendation to then-Chief Steve Anderson after demonstrators set the Metro Courthouse on fire.
“At the time they broke the glass and set the courthouse on fire, is when the time I had called then-Chief Anderson to say, ‘We need to do this. We need to do gas,'” Drake said.
“Never in my career did I think that we were going to have to do that. And, hopefully, never again,” he said. “That’s one of the main reasons that I want to have community engagement.”
Here are some of the other interview highlights:
Diversity and Recruitment:
John Drake: “When I look at diversity within the police department, it’s severely lacking. … It’s not good for a police department our size. So, one of the first things I did was we started a recruitment unit. … We send them to colleges, universities, out in the community, get to know people, but then they treat them like athletes. ‘This is why you should be a police officer. Let us help you with this endeavor.'”
Troy Gay: “I would want to look at — just like we’re doing in Austin — is, what are those barriers? What are those barriers that are preventing people from coming in? We’re trying to get the right people of service. Too, often, you see the training videos, and they represent 5% of the action-packed of what the officers do. But that’s really not what we’re trying to recruit. We’re trying to recruit for the other 95%. The officers that need to have the heart of a servant, that needs to have empathy and compassion.”
Darryl McSwain: “Inclusion, diversity and equity are extremely important in any modern-day police agency. Without it, you lose life experiences. They can help to inform your policies and training. You also lose the respect of the community that you’re called to serve, especially those who may feel marginalized. … One of the things we have to do to reach out to the minority community is we have to use the personal touch. We can’t expect them to come to us simply filling out an application online. Instead, we have to almost be like college recruiters.”
Larry Scirotto: “As a Black man in a blue profession, I am acutely aware of how our organization’s dynamics affect the way that we are perceived within the community. I believe that a diverse organization is a just organization, which, in the community’s eyes will be a legitimate organization. And, first and foremost, when you’re talking about recruiting and retention, you must look within. … When you’re outward looking in for a career that you want to engage in, that you want to be a part of, you look at the senior leadership. And, in this department, the senior leadership doesn’t reflect the community.”
Kristen Ziman: “I am a minority in this profession. … I came up in a department predominantly run by white males, and I believe, while they were not ill-intended — they were well-intended — but what happens is, you tend to promote in your own likeness. … When you’re running an organization, that actually causes stagnation in your organization. … The first step in that process is to create opportunities.”
Use of Force:
John Drake: “I feel these incidents around the country, some are through a sense of urgency where officers arrive on the scene and, instead of believing in their training, they escalate the situation. They progress it to a point where they have to use force. And so, what I’ve told them is that we need to pull back that sense of urgency.”
Troy Gay: “Force should never be used unless it’s absolutely necessary. It needs to be exceptionally reasonable. It needs to be — we need to train our officers to make sure that they use de-escalation. We train them. We give them the tools necessary to communicate.”
Darryl McSwain: “Use of force should be the last resort in any encounter that we are involved in. One of the first things I would do as chief is attend the academy itself, and go to the academy and speak with the staff and assess what we currently do. … One of the things we also have to do in police work is ask ourselves basic questions every single time. First of all, is it legal? Second of all, even more important, is it necessary? And then, third, I think we need to begin asking ourselves, if that was my mother, father, brother or sister, how would I handle this incident?”
Larry Scirotto: “MNPD must recognize the sanctity of human life. And my philosophy is that our purpose and goal is to do no harm. And those are the foundations from which we exist. … Force should only be an option when the power of persuasion has failed and you have exhausted any other available options.”
Kristen Ziman: “What we have to do is train, train, train. I cannot say that enough. … I firmly believe that you play like you practice. So, when we have our officers going through these training scenarios, they will go out on the street and they will do the right thing. … Sometimes we forget that the greatest tool is our human influence, and sometimes police officers — I’ve seen them go right to force when they could have spent more time using their human influence.”
Community Oversight Board:
John Drake: “My approach is I believe in my community, and Nashvillians overwhelmingly voted and supported the COB. So I overwhelming support the COB.”
Troy Gay: “My relationship would be collaborative. It’s relationship building. Oversight has been with the Austin Police Department since 2001, almost 20 years. It has evolved, and I have seen it evolve through the years. … Police officers are given a lot of authority, a lot of power to take people’s rights away, to put people in jail, and I think it’s appropriate. It’s necessary to have oversight for the department.”
Darryl McSwain: “I believe, in this time of police legitimacy and challenges, especially with minority communities or communities that feel marginalized, that could also be LGBT members and others, as well, I think it’s important that police agencies regularly work with outside agencies. … It enhances the community’s trust in internal processes, it serves to improve legitimacy within the eyes of the public itself.”
Larry Scirotto: “I came from Pittsburgh, and we had two civilian oversight boards, so, in essence, I don’t know another way. … I commit on my first day at MNPD to make an available and hopefully engage in a collaborative process with you and the COB ensure that we are — you are part of our leadership team. And, when we’re talking about policy development, when we’re talking about training and education, when we’re talking about strategic initiatives that affect our communities, that you have a seat at the table.”
Kristen Ziman: “My hope it becomes a two-way street so that, we, law enforcement can learn to be better. I would love to listen to people who have an idea with a new perspective, especially a perspective outside of law enforcement. I think that can benefit us. I also think that education can occur from us, as well, to the oversight boards and to the commission, to say: ‘Here’s why we do this.’
Samantha Max is a Report for America corps member.