Tennessee Republicans file bill that would restrict community oversight board power

Photo: FOX 17 News

Tennessee Republicans are pushing to restrict the power of community oversight boards. Nashville voters approved a board to investigate allegations of police wrong-doing back in November.

HB 658 would define a community oversight board and set guidelines for how they investigate.

“Its goal is to protect the fundamental rights of our police officers and our citizens,” bill sponsor Michael Curcio (R- Dickson) said.

However, one of the things the bill takes away from these boards is the power to subpoena officers. That basically means if an officer doesn’t want to participate in an investigation they can’t be forced.

Nashville resident Darius Willis voted in favor of forming this board in November. He did it because he believed it would actually strengthen the relationship between police and the community.

“This right here could start mending some fences if we could get a board which could work,” Willis said.

However, without the power to subpoena, he has a hard time seeing how the board could be effective.

“There's no point in having a board if you can't subpoena an officer. I think it should be fair to both parties. I think you would be back at square one,” Willis said.

The board is set to have a budget of at least $1.5 million each year, but without the ability to subpoena officers, Willis thinks that's taxpayer money wasted.

“I would think it would be pointless if we use $1.5 million to do something you're handicapping the people who are working on the board, who are trying to get to the bottom of something, “ Willis said.

Senate Democrat Jeff Yardboro (D-Nashville) thinks this move by the legislature undermines Nashville voters.

“It's just not a mature and responsible way to run a state,” Sen. Yardboro said.

However, he hopes officers would still willingly participate in investigations.

“I think that most people are gonna want to testify as part of an investigation voluntarily. I would anticipate that the police department would not want there to be an investigation that they're not part of, frankly,” Sen. Yardboro said.

Republican lawmakers deny this legislation has anything to do with Nashville's Community Oversight Board. They say it's past time boards like this are regulated. They also said they had been in communication with the Fraternal Order of Police.

FOX 17 News reached out to Community Oversight Now. They provided this statement:

“Community Oversight Now looked at best practices of cities from around the country with existing police oversight boards to make sure the Nashville board can effectively function. The power to compel was one of the best practices from all of our research. Everyone we heard from, said we needed to have some actual teeth for the board. Therefore, we would not have to persuade people to cooperate, that this board is actually strong enough to do the job that it's designed to do. Most Republicans believe in local government, and the people of Nashville have spoken. They want this board, the way they voted overwhelmingly for it. We think that they should do the right thing, and if they do not, there will be a legal battle.”

FOX 17 News also reached out to Mayor Briley’s office and has not received a response yet.

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