Nashville Police Chief Steve Anderson is leaving his post at the end of the day, a sudden change on Thursday that rapidly accelerates his planned retirement.
Mayor John Cooper made the announcement just after noon. He said Deputy Chief John Drake will assume command as interim chief on Friday.
The mayor says the city is searching for a “reform-minded” chief, who will “make Nashville a model of community engagement and policing innovation.”
“I’m grateful to Chief Anderson for his 45 years of service in the Metro Nashville Police Department. He is a dedicated public servant with an unwavering sense of civic duty,” Cooper said in a statement.
Despite moments of widespread praise during his 10-year tenure as the city’s police chief, Anderson also took on criticism from local officials and community groups.
In June, a coalition of Metro Council members signed a resolution calling on the mayor to remove Anderson after a wave of protests calling for the department to be defunded.
There has also been dissatisfaction with the department’s delayed rollout of body-worn cameras for officers and tensions between the department the Community Oversight Board, which voters created by referendum to provide oversight over city policing.
And in recent days, the chief has come under fire yet again.
Yesterday, a former detective in MNPD’s adult sex abuse division told reporters that 19 women had contacted her with allegations of sexual misconduct and rampant gender-based and racial discrimination within the department. She also shared a series of emails sent to the chief and the mayor, dating back to April, that outlined her initial findings, which she says never received a direct response.
The mayor’s office says the messages went to an old email address and were immediately referred to the police department, once discovered.
Plus, residents and council members have blasted the department for failing to issue citations to crowds of maskless people congregating outside of honky tonks on Lower Broadway.
Anderson planned to remain at the helm throughout the search for his replacement, or at least until after the final presidential debate, which will be held at Belmont University in October. Just last week, the mayor’s office shared a roadmap for selecting a new chief. The process is still in the early stages; a job posting hasn’t even been listed yet. It’s unclear at this point why Anderson changed course.
The police department said it didn’t have any further information to provide when WPLN News asked why the timeline had changed or whether it was the chief’s decision. The mayor’s office declined to elaborate on the announcement.
“It was very unexpected to see him step down,” says Delishia Porterfield, one of the council members who called for Anderson to be replaced earlier this year.
Porterfield says she’s thankful for Anderson’s 45 years of service and hopes his replacement will be flexible, engaged and willing to listen to all communities.
“I think that Nashville has a wonderful opportunity to create a more inclusive and equitable city and to create a public safety model that keeps all Nashvillians safe,” she says.
Thank you to Chief Anderson for 45 years of service to our city. I'm thankful that our communities are being included in the process as we move forward with the search for our new police chief.
— Delishia Danielle Porterfield The Social Distancer (@Delishia4D29) August 6, 2020
Other community members have also started to weigh in on the announcement.
Council Member Bob Mendes thanked the mayor after urging Cooper to “remove Chief Anderson effective immediately” earlier in the day, regarding the newly divulged allegations of sexual misconduct within the department.
— Bob Mendes (@mendesbob) August 6, 2020
Sheila Clemmons Lee, whose son was killed by a Nashville police officer in 2017, also called for Anderson’s immediate ouster after learning about the allegations. She suggested that the next chief of police be elected, rather than appointed.
OUR NEXT POLICE CHIEF SHOULD BE VOTED ON AND NOT APPOINTED BY THE MAYOR
— Sheila Lee (@Phatz1966) August 6, 2020
Theeda Murphy, an activist with Community Oversight Now, lauded the announcement but said more needed to be done.
— Theeda Murphy 🌑🌒🌓🌔🌕🌖🌗🌘🌑 (@hermit2017) August 6, 2020
Ashley Bachelder, co-director of Worker’s Dignity, called Anderson’s immediate retirement “a win” for those that pushed for more oversight of the police department.
This is a win for folks with @OversightNow that has educated folks in this city & elevated how rotten policing is. A win for them, all those before them, & everything that's grown out of this work. This is because of years of deep organizing. #DefundPolice #DefendBlackLives https://t.co/iqybVYFSzZ
— Ashley Bachelder (@ae_bachelder) August 6, 2020
This post was updated at 7:15 to include a response from the mayor’s office.