A scaled-down version of a controversial bill to install cameras in parks and fund renovation equipment for Brookmeade Park passed at the most recent Metro Council meeting, following weeks of heated debate.
The original version of the bill sought $1.93 million in American Rescue Plan funding for construction equipment — including vehicles like Bobcats, which some councilmembers worried could be used for removing campsites used by unhoused Nashvillians. The bill also sought to place cameras in parks across the city where homeless camps are located. The new version costs $1.26 million. Cameras will be placed only in Brookmeade Park, and the vehicles are limited to trash trucks and pressure washers. The bill also includes language that equipment will not be used to remove residents.
The Metro Council deferred the bill twice — the original delay prompted Mayor John Cooper’s office to invite councilmembers to tour encampments, which sparked backlash.
Councilmember Colby Sledge was an outspoken critic of the original bill, but he co-sponsored the substitution, describing it as a compromise at the Metro Council hearing.
“I wanted to see the park get the funding it needed for repairs,” Sledge tells the Scene via email, “but did not support some of the equipment items — like Bobcats — that could feasibly have been used for encampment clearance, and I certainly didn’t support creating a massive surveillance network across Metro Parks with no clear guidelines or boundaries regarding data usage and storage.”
Councilmember Sandra Sepulveda was one of four who voted against the resolution, telling the Scene, “Neither HUD, [service] providers, or the Homelessness Planning Council recommended this as the best strategy.”
Advocates at Open Table Nashville — a nonprofit that conducts outreach to people experiencing homelessness — opposed the original bill and still take issue with its substitute.
“We strongly believe that until there is adequate affordable housing in Nashville, funding from the American Rescue Plan should be focused on building units instead of renovating a park where people are currently living,” says Open Table’s Paula Foster. “Our primary concern is that despite assurances, our friends who live in Brookmeade Park will be forced to move before adequate housing is found for all the residents so that the park can be repaired.”
At a budget meeting in October, an officer with the Metro Nashville Police Department’s Quality of Life Team argued that people who live at the camps support the cameras, according to a survey police conducted.
The Scene obtained footage of the survey through a public records request.
The 45-minute recording shows two officers approaching more than 20 people at the Old Tent City encampment, which is set to become Wharf Park, located near the Silliman Evans Bridge. The officers, after announcing that they’re recording, explain that the Metro Council is considering a bill to place cameras in parks. The officers also say that the cameras would not be monitored but that the footage would be reviewed if an incident occurred. During some interactions, an officer adds that the cameras would be for people’s safety or the safety of their belongings — “not for spying.”
Then the officers ask if people would support the bill — the vast majority say yes. One man even calls it a great idea.
One young man who is on the fence says he has concerns about “invasion of privacy” — like people being recorded using the bathroom on camera — and an officer responds that the cameras wouldn’t “be used day to day.” The man was ultimately listed as a yes vote, “with the right considerations.”
The police tallied up a total of four no’s.
Open Table’s Foster hasn’t seen the video but raises concerns about the survey.
“Police officers hold positions of power and authority, and that is going to seriously affect the responses they get from our friends on the street,” she says.