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TN lawmakers considering limiting community oversight of police

{p}New Tennessee bill would limit community oversight of police (PHOTO: WZTV){/p}

New Tennessee bill would limit community oversight of police (PHOTO: WZTV)

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New restrictions could be coming to Nashville’s Community Oversight Board (COB).

State lawmakers are considering a bill that would alter the board and limit its ability to investigate police misconduct.

COB is responsible for holding police officers accountable, including investigating officer shootings and citizen complaints about possible police misconduct.

“So rather than it being decided through the bureaucracy, it was decided by the will of the people,” Board Chair Michael Milliner said.

Milliner says a new bill would limit their ability to investigate complaints.

“This basically would turn back the will of the people that has been implemented over the last five, six years,” he said.

Right now, people can report possible police misconduct to the board, who then launch an investigation.

The board makes discipline recommendations to police and metro leaders based on what they find.

But this bill changes the chain of command, instead forcing the board to forward those complaints directly to the police internal affairs unit. The director of COB can review the investigation once its completed by police.

Milliner says that’s a blow to trust and transparency.

“It will put board more in an auditing after the fact,” Milliner said.

FOX 17 News brought these concerns to the bill sponsor, Senator Mark Pody.

FOX 17's Jackie DelPilar asled, "Under this bill, it would first go to internal affairs with police, rather than giving that investigative authority to the COB, which is sort of the whole point of the operation?"

"Sure," said Sen. Pody. "So the community oversight board, if somebody makes a complaint to them, we want them to be able to fully investigate everything that's going on as well. But we also know that sometimes there's information that has to be kept confidential in order for us to prosecute the right person, and sometimes community oversight boards. It's easy to make public information out there that could put people perhaps in danger."

Pody says the goal of this bill is to create uniform guidelines for oversight boards state-wide. Memphis, Nashville, Knoxville and Chattanooga are the only cities with oversight boards in Tennessee.

Bill language only applies to cities over 500,000, which only includes Nashville and Memphis. Pody says he plans to modify that number to also include Knoxville.

Nashville voted in 2018 to establish its COB. Metro leaders have put together a board charter that outlines the board’s responsibilities, powers, and how it operates.

Nashville’s board is comprised of 11 members, who are appointed and nominated by city leaders and community members.

This bill would cap the board at seven members, and only allow members appointed by the mayor.

Jackie DelPilar asked, "What is your response to those who might say this is government overreach, since Nashville already came up with their own framework for this?

"So we're absolutely going to be respecting what Nashville did when they said that the citizens wanted this," responded Sen. Pody. "So we want to make sure that we keep this board in place, but we do want some uniformity across the state what the community oversight board would look like."

Pody says he's heard about problems with board members getting in the way of crime scenes, and that some officers feel like they are "under a microscope." He says the bill is still under construction and he wants to work with board members, city leaders, and police, to find a balance that works for all parties.

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