NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Now that the first half of the legislative session has adjourned, local leaders are looking for how to navigate what to do with some of the bills that affect their cities.
In Nashville, Metro leaders are currently fielding a lawsuit against the state for a law reducing the size of the Metro Council, coming changes to the Metro Nashville Airport Authority and a prohibition on “community oversight boards” in favor of “police advisory review committees” or PARCs.
According to Director Jill Fitcheard, the law prohibiting community oversight boards will “completely and drastically” change the way police accountability is sought in Metro Nashville. She previously told News 2 the move would give the mayor’s office “complete control” over the board while also shrinking the size of the committee to just seven members. Currently, the Community Oversight Board (COB) has eleven members.
“The majority of the board members are selected from the community, from community organizations or self-nominated,” Fitcheard said. “What [the law] does is it puts the power and authority strictly in the mayor’s office to be able to make this selection for the entire board.”
According to House sponsor Rep. Elaine Davis, the new PARCs would be modeled after the Knoxville Police Advisory & Review Committee, which was formed in the 1990s.
“Of course, policing has changed since then, so accountability has changed,” Fitcheard said.
Currently, the Metro COB has the authority to perform its own investigations and write policy recommendations for the Metro Nashville Police Department, she added.
“We can switch over to being an auditor and monitor and look into any issues with the criminal justice system,” Fitcheard told News 2.
With the new law, which has an effective date of July 1 and grants any already established COBs 120 days in which to comply with the law, Fitcheard said Nashville would be forced to revert back to the way police accountability was handled prior to the COB’s implementation in 2018.
“We would have to go back to letting the police investigate themselves,” she said. “That’s what the legislation states—that when complainants come to our agency to make their complaint, then we would have to send that complaint to the police department to investigate. It doesn’t spell out how that process looks. It says that we aren’t able to investigate and that all we can do is review the completed investigations. It doesn’t say that once we make our recommendations whether or not those would be implemented or if they’re just suggestions.”
Instead, the PARC leaves those making complaints about the department “vulnerable to the police policing themselves,” she said, and the majority of people who bring complaints against MNPD do so because they “don’t trust the outcomes of the police department.”
Prior to the law’s passage, Fitcheard said she would be “disappointed” if the bill successfully made its way through the general assembly.
“Having a separate investigative authority is a deterrent to police misconduct,” she said.
Additionally, having an entity like the COB helps prevent federal agencies like the Department of Justice from having to come down and issue “consent decrees,” or a mandate that federal agencies like DOJ use to ensure compliance with certain laws or standards.
Fitcheard said when DOJ has to investigate wrongdoing on the part of local law enforcement agencies, they frequently issue consent decrees that include oversight boards like Metro’s COB, citing Chicago, Seattle, and Oakland, Calif., as examples.
Having Metro’s COB exist in its hybrid format, she said, is already a best practice for preventing police misconduct and having consent decrees issued.
“Having that hybrid model to go in between, to look at research and policy and make recommendations to the police department so they don’t end up in consent decrees is the best way to go in police accountability work,” Fitcheard said.
Further, she added, the work the COB has been doing since it was approved via ballot initiative in 2018 has been working well for Metro Nashville, and the state needed to leave local governance of the city alone. “I think the state should stay out of local government and let them run the government as they should. How they’ve been doing it is doing it good.”
Since the bill cleared the General Assembly, the legislation is now awaiting the governor’s signature.
Board member Michael Milliner publicly called for Gov. Bill Lee not to sign the bill at the Monday, April 24, meeting, asking him to hold off and to honor the wishes of the Metropolitan Nashville-Davidson County who approved the COB.
“I implore you not to sign this bill. It’s a bad bill,” he said. “It’s a bill that ultimately would challenge…the constitution of the local government. I ask you to send this bill back and make them get it right.”