As Nashvillians took to the polls during the 2018 midterm elections, they were voting for more than just their next representatives. The ballot also featured several proposed amendments to the Metropolitan Nashville and Davidson County Charter, one of which signals a major shift in the city’s policing practices.
Amendment One, which passed by a 59 to 41 margin, requires that the city establish an independent, 11-person community oversight board to investigate allegations of improper use of force by Metro Nashville police officers. After an investigation, the board will be able to issue reports, make policy recommendations, and compel testimonies related to the incident. The amendment’s passage is a victory for local activist groups that have long fought for greater civilian oversight of Metro police.
The amendment comes on the heels of two high-profile police shootings of black men in Nashville. Metro police shot and killed 31-year-old Jocques Clemmons in February 2017, but the Davidson County District Attorney did not prosecute the officer on any charges. Community Oversight Now, a coalition of activist groups supporting social justice initiatives in Nashville, responded by spearheading a petition to place Amendment One on the ballot. The amendment gained further attention in July 2018, when another Metro police officer shot and killed 25-year-old Daniel Hambrick after a traffic stop. The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation’s initial report of the shooting failed to mention that Hambrick was shot while running away from the police officer, an omission that increased concerns about Metro police’s handling of the situation.
Despite the support of over 8,000 signatories on the petition for Amendment One, it faced significant political opposition. Mayor David Briley and Police Chief Steve Anderson did not support the amendment, and the Nashville Fraternal Order of Police filed a lawsuit to stop it. However, Mayor Briley now promises to implement the oversight board as outlined in the amendment.
“I have always asserted that civilian oversight is essential to ensuring that we have a twenty-first century approach to policing,” said Briley. “Thankfully best practices exist to help us chart a path forward, and I will do all I can to help ensure the Community Oversight Board is successful.”
Vanderbilt Law School Professor Edward Rubin, author of Minimizing Harm: A New Crime Policy For Modern America, sees the amendment’s passage as a necessary manifestation of the system of checks and balances in the United States government.
“Government needs to be checked and supervised, and that extends to the police,” said Rubin. While many opposed to the amendment worry that it may hinder police officers in the line of duty, Professor Rubin disagrees. “This is far from impeding on the police. It makes the police more efficient,” says Rubin. He contends that increased civilian oversight not only helps to curb inappropriate use of force but produces a general improvement in the quality of policing overall.
After the failure of a referendum that aimed to overhaul Nashville’s public transit system in May, Amendment One is an example for future efforts to pass legislation through the ballot in Davidson County. Furthermore, the amendment’s passage represents a big win for all those impacted by improper use of force.
“This is a moment of justice for everyone who has ever experienced police violence or police abuse in Nashville,” said activist Gicola Lane.