To create a community oversight board (COB) that exercises democratic accountability and disciplinary control over the Metro Nashville Police Department (MNPD).
What is a community oversight board?
A community oversight board (COB) is an agency staffed with civilians, not sworn officers, tasked with investigating community complaints of misconduct by the police. It is one tool, among others, used to protect civilians’ rights, to maintain excellence in policing, and to create a safer Nashville.
Other names for a community oversight board include:
- Civilian Complaint Review Boards
- Citizens Review Boards
- Citizens Oversight Boards
- Police Commissions
- Civilian Investigative Panels
What will a COB do for Nashville?
A COB will provide Nashville with one of the many tools needed to make a safer, more just and democratic city. Rather than continuing to fall behind on issues of policing, by instituting a COB, Nashville will join other forward-looking cities that have utilized COB’s for years. A “best practices” COB operates independently from law enforcement, is staffed with civilians, has adequate authority and a suitable staff size, and regularly reports to the community. Nashville can lead the way alongside cities like Atlanta, Denver, Las Vegas, Miami, and Newark in striving to establish a “best practice” review board with proper authority and funding.
Vanderbilt Graduate Student Research suggests that “community oversight can: diminish the ‘conflict of interest’ that exists with internal investigations and disrupt the tendency for a ‘code of silence’ that obscures misconduct; increase police accountability and legitimacy; and foster greater sense of trust in police” (Davis, Eccleston, Lyew, & Moranville, City Comparison: Features of Community Oversight Boards).
History of Community Oversight Boards
Community Oversight Boards:
- Have existed since the 1940’s
- Most often have been established as a reaction to allegations of police brutality
- Are effective if the appropriate level of authority and/or funding is granted
- Nashville’s chapter of the NAACP first called for a COB in the 1990s after police shot and killed a black resident
- Gideon’s Army’s Driving While Black report, published in October 2016, called for the institution of a COB in its list of demands
Having police officers police themselves through the Office of Professional Accountability presents obvious conflicts of interest. Records show that civilian complaints are almost always resolved in favor of the officer. As the Driving While Black report showed, MNPD conducts a disproportionate number of stops and searches on people of color, black residents in particular. MNPD’s aggressive tactics increase the risk of another fatal shooting, like the killing of Mr. Jocques Clemmons by officer Joshua Lippert on February 10, 2017.
Nashville’s Current Response to Policing Issues
Currently, a significant focus of Metro Nashville government is on the implementation of new equipment as part of their solution to problems with policing, including:
- The purchase of body armor to provide more protection for police officers
- The purchase and implementation of body cameras to be worn by police officers to provide real-time information
Other Available Policing/Criminal Justice Strategies
Review Boards: Major cities like Atlanta, Denver, Newark, and others are striving to establish “best practice” review boards.
Community policing is based upon a partnership between the police and the community.
Restorative Justice is an approach to justice that addresses harm through mediation and restitution rather than incarceration.
COB Best Practices
- Is staffed with civilians, and not sworn officers.
- Has adequate authority to be effective. Subpoena, Disciplinary, and Policy Review Authority.
- Has an independent budget from the police department.
- Has the majority of the board nominated by civic organizations, with a minority of the board nominated by the mayor and lawmakers.
- Models the best practices of COBs in other major U.S. cities.
- Has a significant staff size to process the level of complaints.
- Has regular reporting of data to the community, including online complaint data with annual reports.
- Has the necessary authority in types of cases (false arrest, excessive force, discrimination, etc.)
- Is a tool for making a city safer, but will not prevent all crime
How does Nashville compare to other cities?
Of the 50 largest police departments in the United States, the vast majority either have no Civilian/Citizens Review Board or serve only in an advisory role*:
- 26 have no Civilian Review Board (includes Nashville)
- 15 have a Civilian Review Board, but members are nominated by mayor /police chief
- 9 have a Civilian review Board with the majority of board members non-mayoral nominees
- 6 have a Civilian Review Board with non-mayoral nominees and disciplinary authority
* Source: Getting it Right: Building Effective Civilian Review Boards to Oversee Police
When looking at the top 50 police departments in the United States, 9 cities have subpoena and other authority. Why not Nashville?
Vanderbilt Graduate Student Research also shows that Nashville is behind other cities with COBs.