There are an average of 700 civilian initiated complaints against Metro Nashville Police Department each year. Of those complaints, none (0%) of the complaints for abusive treatment and excessive force have been upheld.
Keith Caldwell with Urban Epicenter and Democracy Nashville says that those numbers mean that community oversight of the police is tantamount.
“Zero is ambiguous,” he said. “In terms of sheer numbers that’s impossible—absolutely no one has had their rights violated. The zero proves that we need oversight.”
Councilman Scott Davis agrees with Caldwell: “Even with the best of police forces, you will have some kind of issue. The Community Oversight Board needs to happen.”
A community oversight board is an agency staffed with civilians charged with the investigation of community complaints of misconduct by police. Also commonly called a Citizens Review Board, it helps build trust between the community and law enforcement.
According to the group Community Oversight Board Now (COB Now), oversight boards have proven to be effective if the appropriate level of authority and/or funding is granted.
COB Now is seeking $1.8 million to properly fund a community oversight board.
“Though a large amount of people who will benefit are African Americans, an oversight board is one way to ensure civil rights of all people in Nashville are protected,” Davis said.
Davis, Chair of the Nashville Minority Caucus, along with Vice Chair Councilwoman-At-Large Sharon Hurt made sure that COB Now had the opportunity to appear before the Budget and Finance Committee, calling a joint meeting with the Minority Caucus to help the organization secure funding for an oversight board.
“I treated them like anyone else who wants to bring legislation to the council-instead of blocking, I gave them equal access.”
Since the killing of Jocques Clemmons at the hands of a Nashville police officer, COB Now has renewed the push for a community oversight board.
COB Now consists of 10 groups that include: Justin for Jocques, NOAH, Giddeon’s Army, Black Lives Matter, Democracy Nashville, the NAACP, and others.
According to COB Now member Sekou Franklin of Democracy Nashville: “A police review board is now endorsed by organizations such as IMF, NAACP, and ACLU. It is also endorsed by Beverly Watts, Executive Director of the Tennessee Human Rights Commission.”
The last local concerted effort to establish an oversight board happened over 20 years ago with the NAACP.
“It’s not a new concept. This is a proposal that is deeply rooted in the civil rights community. It’s one of the central fabrics of police reform. Martin Luther King, Jr. endorsed the creation of independent police review boards to document things like police brutality, false arrest, and stops and seizures.”
Nashville Mayor Megan Barry is not convinced that an oversight board is necessary.
In an interview she said: “The results nationwide have been mixed when it comes to their efficacy. I think the goal is to create a well-disciplined, professional police force, and there are other ways to do that.”
Caldwell disagrees with Barry. He shared a story about one of many interactions he has had with police.
“I grew up in public housing here in Nashville. I currently own a home in North Nashville off 10th and Jefferson. Just over a year ago, I walked down to the Farmers Market to get some Jamaican food. On the way back, I got pulled over by the police at about 9th and Jefferson. I asked ‘what’s the problem’ and they said that I look like someone who had stolen something out of the Rite Aid store on the corner of Rosa Parks and 8th. I said, ‘so do you have a description of the person’ and they said ‘no.’
Caldwell explained that the only description they had was that it was a Black man. “I was detained for 30 minutes. This kind of racial profiling is pervasive.
I’ve been stopped many times. Our areas have become militarized rather than being policed, and it is important that we have a police department that is transparent and accountable to the community.”