Community Oversight Board (COB) – Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
1. What is the COB? The COB represents the community’s interest in all matters involving criminaljustice in Nashville.
2. What kind of work will the COB be doing? It will work in an advisory and investigative capacity. It will review criminal justice policies and make recommendations based on how those policies affect the community. The Board will also conduct independent investigations in cases of police misconduct and will recommend remedial actions based upon those recommendations.
3. Why is this COB needed? It is needed because the community is not directly involved in the process of developing policy. MNPD has lost all credibility in the community regarding its ability to handle citizen complaints or be responsive to community needs. The oversight board is needed to address that. Other concerns have been raised:
• There were nearly 700 citizen complaints each year from 2005-2015 (nearly 7,000), 98% of which were decided against the people bringing complaints.
• The “Driving While Black” report assessing 2 million MNPD stops from 2011-2015 found that blacks
are disproportionately the targets of police stops and roadside searchers.
• Statements from the District Attorney and Tennessee Bureau of Investigation offices have noted institutional bias in the action of the MNPD during the investigation of the killing of Jocques Clemmons.
• The Davidson County Grand Jury’s “end-of-term” report in 2017 called for more civilian input.
• The U.S. Department of Justice’s Community Relations Service division found problems with MNPD’s policing practices as they related to communities of color.
4. Will COB members be paid? The Board members are not paid, however some will receive reimbursements for travel to and from meetings if they demonstrate economic hardship. They will be supported by a paid staff consisting of an administrative director, a full-time staff of investigators, language interpreters, and research analysts.
5. How will COB members be chosen? There will be eleven board members. Seven members of the board will come from the community by designation from civic and civil rights groups or will go through a process of collecting signatures required for eligibility. Four of those members will come from economically disadvantaged neighborhoods.
All seven “community” members will receive final approval from Metro Council. Two additional members will be selected by the Council and two by the Mayor.
• All board members must go through training or demonstrate a background related to policing practices, racial and gender equity, and other civil rights concerns.
• We will be proposing rules and regulations that call for the COB to have some of their meetings in the community instead of downtown like all the other boards.
6. What disciplinary powers are allocated to the COB? The COB will not have direct firing or disciplinary power because the Metro Nashville charter gives the Civil Service Commission and the Chief of Police those responsibilities. MNPD also has union protections that protect officers from disciplinary procedures that diverge from its collective bargaining agreement. However, the COB can impact MNPD personnel involved in alleged misconduct by leveraging various pressure points such as:
• It can recommend disciplinary action and ask the Mayor and Council to make this a high priority for officers engaged in misconduct.
• It can forward recommendations to the Civil Service Commission and Employment Benefits Board to discipline the officers.
• It can refer incidents to the Grand Jury in some cases.
7. What other responsibilities will be given to the COB? The COB can conduct policy reviews pertaining to the administration of justice, which include MNPD and other agencies involved in the criminal justice system. Some examples may entail MNPD’s policies regarding holding on to the phones of people killed or detained by police; inconsistencies in incidence reports; delays pertaining to when family members of people killed by police get access to the victims’ personal items (e.g. clothes, phone, etc.); and public access to MNPD’s internal use-of-force reports.
Some larger criminal justice issues that can be examined by the COB entail: the links between heavy-handed policing and incarceration; the impact of bail reform; how language barriers and cultural differences create mistrust between law enforcement and community; how poor women and LGBTQ people are treated by law enforcement; and how restorative justice can reduce gun violence and improve relations between law enforcement and over-policed communities.
8. Does the COB have subpoena power? The COB will have subpoena power or what the Metropolitan Nashville charter calls compulsory power (or the power to compel). Compulsory power is the equivalent of subpoena power and is clearly outlined in Section 18.10 of the charter. To be consistent with the charter language, the COB referendum uses the term compulsory instead of subpoena. The Tennessee Attorney General also issued a legal opinion (No.18-07, March 8, 2018) stating that civilian review boards (or what we call community oversight boards) have subpoena powers.
9. What are the origins of the COB? The COB was a central demand of the civil rights movement’s police reform agenda. Many opponents have stigmatized the COB without acknowledging that Dr. Martin Luther King first advocated for it in the mid-1960s. Nashville’s civil rights leaders also advocated for an independent review board as early as the late 1960s and early 1970s.
10. For funding questions and answers, check out the Funding FAQ page!