NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — A bill that would replace community oversight boards tasked with holding law enforcement accountable with a mayor-appointed committee passed through the Senate Tuesday and is headed to the House.
Nashville voters overwhelmingly approved the creation of Metro’s Community Oversight Board (COB) in 2018. Metro Council gave the group subpoena powers in 2020.
Metro’s COB is made up of 11 civilians in charge of checking in at crime scenes, looking into citizens’ complaints, leading independent investigations into officer involved shootings, and making department policy recommendations to prevent lawsuits and mitigate risk.
Senate Bill 591 would replace COBs in Nashville, Memphis, and Chattanooga with a committee similar to the one in Knoxville, where seven members are appointed by the mayor and are in charge of listening to citizens’ complaints.
“Like every profession, not every officer can make everyone happy every single time,” the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Mark Pod (R-Lebanon) said. “From time to time, mistakes happen. Whenever a person or citizen has a concern about the actions of police officers, they have the right to be heard. Some concerns are valid. Some are not.”
However, Metro’s COB executive director Jill Fitcheard told News 2 the new committee would hurt the citizens and could encourage police misconduct.
“We would have to go back to letting the police investigate themselves,” Fitcheard said. “That’s what the legislation states, that when complainants come to our agency to make their complaint, we would have to send that complaint to the police department to investigate. It’s kind of fashioned after the Knoxville location, which has been around since the 90s, and of course policing has changed since then, so accountability should change.”
However, lawmakers have argued COBs have too much power and have sometimes hurt investigations instead of helped; they added they have the potential to contaminate crime scenes.
Fitcheard called the accusation “misinformation” and told News 2 Metro’s COB has never contaminated a crime scene.
“The legislators have been using language like, ‘uniformity,’ Fitcheard said. “If they want to create that, so be it, but 135,000 members of the Nashville public voted to have an oversight board specifically the way it’s written in our charter.”
The bill is set to be presented on the House floor in the future.