With all due respect to the men in bluethe guys who walk the beats, train the dogs, man the DUI roadblocks, and otherwise handle humanity’s flotsam so that we won’t have tothe Metro Police Department ranks among the more infamously flawed institutions in this city. In the last week alone, the place was bursting with mishaps.
♦ On Friday, a police officer who drove his Grand Prix into the Cumberland River, which resulted in the drowning death of another cop in the car, was indicted for vehicular homicide.
♦ On Thursday, a police officer who arrested Titans quarterback Steve McNair for DUI was suspended for the way he mishandled the arrest and for taking copies of videotapes of McNair’s arrest home for his viewing pleasure.
♦ In a related incident, another officer who had tried to get McNair sprung from the charges had earlier been suspended. The officer had worked off-duty security for the Titans; it was also revealed the cop had not registered to do that work for the Titans, which only highlighted longstanding problems of outside jobs held by cops.
♦ Also on Thursday, the acting police chief signed a number of job promotions for minority officers after racial flare-ups had reached a point of apparent unsustainability. The promotions were made only days after a top cop within the department had complained in a memo to the chief about the plight of the minority officers. That memo had been leaked to the media, which resulted in yet more unflattering front-page news. Importantly, the person making the promotions, Deb Faulkner, was one of seven candidates being considered for police chief.
It was not a good couple of days for the police department. Then again, it was just business as usual.
The Metro Police Department is a chronically, pathologically, persistently messed-up place, riven by infighting, handicapped by political subterfuge, and satisfied with a mind-numbing mediocrity. Performance audits, outside analysts and the media itself have pointed these things out not just in the last week, and not just during Faulkner’s tenure, but for years now. A top national law enforcement official, speaking to the Scene on condition of anonymity not too long ago, opined that three city police departments in the United States enjoy a reputation for being the worst: Los Angeles, Dallas and Nashville. Unfortunately, the sense you get is that things have been so bad for so long that we citizens have just come to expect this is how police departments work.
It was among our greatest satisfactions over the weekend to watch a seven-member citizens’ panel assist in the selection of a new chief for Nashville. The panel had been appointed by the mayor to whittle the list to three to five candidates from which he could then choose. Four of the candidates being considered worked for other law enforcement organizations; three worked in the Metro Police Department here. All three local candidates, Faulkner included, did not make the final cut. The three finalists are from Chattanooga, Waco, Texas, and Washington state.
Many in the city were shocked by the announcement, and the hue and cry from those who complained that it would have been better to have promoted from within the department was loud. But, according to one insider, the screening committee came to the conclusion that “things just can’t continue as they are.”
They can’t. They shouldn’t. And, perhaps, they won’t.
Acting chief Faulkner had eight months in which to right the ship, but as she tried to placate the largely white officer-dominated police union, she alienated the minority community. Of the three Metro police employees vying for the chief’s job, the mayor himself had to have assumed that Faulkner would make the cut. That she didn’t was a sign from the panel that it is time for a radical reworking of our police department.
This panel did the heavy lifting. The mayor himself didn’t have to tell Faulkner “no,” which would have brought him criticism from a number of quarters. But our mayor, who is known for a scary attention to detail and a microscopic attention to management issues, can now commence his second term in office with an opportunity to rebuild the cop shop from the top down.
It has needed that for a long while. We say, have at it.
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