After Nashville Visit, Justice Department Asks Police To Consider How It Works With Black Residents

Jul 19, 2017

The Department of Justice is recommending that Nashville conduct a thorough study of its policing culture. The direction comes after a white Metro police officer fatally shot a black man earlier this year.

In late May, the Department of Justice's Community Relations Service, often called the federal government's "peacemakers", came to Nashville. For two days a specialist met with Mayor Megan Barry, Police Chief Steve Anderson and more than a dozen stakeholders, including Black Lives Matter and the NAACP.

The specialist recently outlined four recommendations. The first advises Metro government to do a comprehensive study on policing in the black community. 

Melody Fowler-Green is the executive director of Metro's Human Relations Commission, which requested the DOJ visit. She says the African American community has often felt targeted by the police, and the DOJ recognized that.  

"They found that there was certainly a deep perception and that perception has a significant impact on community and police relationships," Fowler-Green says.

Another recommendation is to explore forming an independent police oversight board — a move Nashville Mayor Megan Barry has been resistant to in recent months. The feds also recommended that the city consider drafting a long term public safety plan that can accommodate the city's massive growth.

In addition to these outside recommendations, the Mayor's office recently brought the New York-based Policing Project to Nashville. The Mayor's office says it's considering hiring the organization to help with reforms in the city's police department. Though no agreement has been drafted. 

In a statement, the mayor says she welcomes the DOJ's feedback — and says engaging the Policing Project, based out of New York University's Law School, "can inspire many productive conversations between community leaders, advocates and activists, and Metro Police to develop and implement community policing initiatives that will make our community stronger and safer." 

On Monday, advocates pushing for a citizen police oversight board began drafting an ordinance that would take the issue directly to the Metro Council, bypassing the Mayor. The proposed ordinance could be filed in the coming months.