Report: Nashville needs more community policing, not stops

The report recommends redirecting officers to neighborhood policing

By Travis Loller
Associated Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Traffic stops in Nashville hurt community relations and don't have the intended effect of reducing crime, a new report found.

The report, which recommends redirecting officers to neighborhood policing, was accepted by both the police department and the local police union. The Fraternal Order of Police released a statement saying that it has expressed concern with the heavy emphasis on traffic stops for years.

The report comes as Nashville grapples with calls for more police accountability after a series of fatal shootings by police officers. A referendum creating a community oversight board for police passed overwhelmingly earlier this month despite heavy opposition from the Fraternal Order of Police.

Released Monday, the report found Nashville for years has relied on traffic stops as a crime-fighting strategy. In 2017 Nashville Police conducted approximately 250,000 stops, a much higher per capita rate than many comparable cities. 

The report concluded that at least part of the disparity comes from a focus on making traffic stops in certain high-crime areas and is not necessarily evidence of racial bias. Nonetheless, the report states that the stops have created animosity and should be greatly reduced in favor of a focus on neighborhood policing.

Only about 2 percent of non-moving violation stops resulted in an arrest or the recovery of drugs or other contraband. The vast majority of citations involved with these stops were for driving with a revoked or suspended license. Until a federal judge declared the practice unconstitutional earlier this year, Tennessee routinely revoked and suspended the licenses of people unable to pay traffic fines, criminal fines or court costs.

Police Chief Steve Anderson said in a statement that the department can't turn a blind eye to all non-moving violations but "we can and will refocus and rededicate ourselves to strengthening community partnerships and engaging neighborhood residents in public safety initiatives that do not make vehicle stops a priority."

Anderson also said the community partnership effort is already underway in some neighborhoods and early reports are promising.

The report was prepared by the Policing Project at New York University School of Law after then-Mayor Megan Barry asked the group in 2017 to help develop strategies to end traffic stop disparities and improve community-police relations.

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