Letter from Larry Woods

If you believe as I do that we need a civilian review board to investigate and make recommendations about Police Department practices and policies in Nashville, please forward to every Nashville voter you know my essay below to vote "for ratification" on Amendment One on the election ballot starting this week

Attorney Larry Woods


Last year the police shot and killed 987 persons. Whether all this violence and death nationwide was necessary and reasonable under  the circumstances is unknown because most cities do not have a public police review board. We can change that in Nashville by voting for the Community Oversight Board that is proposed for ratification as Amendment One to the Metro Charter in the November 2018 election ballot (early voting starts October 17,2018).Unless the Nashville Community Oversight Board amendment is ratified, we will never know about the deaths resulting from police shootings in Nashville because all these deaths as well as other complaints are either self-investigated internally by the Police Department that is the target of the complaint or are handled by private attorneys or are never investigated at all in any public and transparent manner.

Let me tell you about real cases in Nashville. Jackie was a very shy and very young disabled woman who rarely left her home where she lived with her mother and helped around the house. The night Jackie and her mother were threatened by a drunken neighbor they called 911 for emergency help from the Nashville police. The responding officer could not find their house and when he did, he shot and killed Jackie. The police department statement to the media tried to make it sound like Jackie was a threat. The truth was the police officer shot her three times in the back, killing her. After a four-year federal court lawsuit, Metro Nashville paid an extremely large sum of money (tax dollars) in addition to their expenses of paying the lawyers and costs. Immediately after the payment  by Metro, the Police Department promoted the officer who killed Jackie from sergeant to lieutenant. He had been promoted to sergeant while the lawsuit was actively being tried.

In another case, Wallace was found under a front porch area by a Nashville police K-9 dog and a police officer during a search. Wallace had no weapons of any kind. The Nashville police officer shot him three times in the back and killed him. The same police officer had previously shot and killed another person in a different episode. After a three year federal court lawsuit, Metro government paid large sums of tax dollars to resolve the case. While this lawsuit was in active litigation, the Nashville Police Department transferred this police officer to the Nashville police training academy to train new officers where he continues to work today.

Nashville police officers who have shot and killed citizens without just cause should not be the first officers to be promoted in rank and should not be assigned to the Police Training Academy to instruct and guide new officers in the use of deadly force. But that is what happens in the Nashville Police Department. Regrettably this is how our police department now functions and that is why we should vote yes ("for ratification") on Amendment One in this election.

Policies for our police department should not be determined by individual lawsuits and private lawyers such as myself. Suspensions with pay for police officers who are accused of violating the law and departmental rules should not drag out forever. Lives and hundreds of thousand dollars can be saved with the adoption of a Community Oversight Board.

Plus we should vote yes in order to support the good and competent police officers who serve and sacrifice every day to protect us. We cannot reasonably expect such good officers to conduct thorough investigations of fellow officers on whom they depend for safety and with whom they work everyday. The “blue wall of silence” is a very real problem and our community must support those good officers by creating a transparent police review board to do the job of initiating investigations and making recommendations.

Finally, we should vote yes on Amendment One to encourage the community to trust the police and their integrity. Citizen involvement and community support for the police provide the vital information necessary for the police to solve crime and catch the bad guys. A community fearful and distrustful of police is a community that will not cooperate and therefore many unsolved crimes will never be cleared by arrest and conviction and more criminals will go unpunished.

We all want and need the same basic things- safety and happiness for our families and loved ones, an opportunity to learn, work, and prosper, freedoms to believe, and personal dignity. One essential for those goals is an effective, competent police force which is trusted by the community. We can help achieve that with a Community Oversight Board. Join with me in voting for Amendment One.

Larry Woods is an attorney with the law firm of Woods & Woods and is a Professor  at Tennessee State University.