Nashville, TN–As residents of Tennessee, we are deeply saddened by the killing of Tyre Nichols by Memphis police officers. Despite the Nichols’ killing, the Tennessee General Assembly is moving forward with legislation that will abolish the community oversight and civilian review boards in Nashville and Memphis. SB 0591/HB 0764 is sponsored by Senator Mark Body and Representative Elaine Davis. The legislation takes police reform in the wrong direction at a time when the eyes of the nation are watching Tennessee. It makes it difficult to investigate excessive force such as the Nichols’ incident. It also mocks the importance of police accountability to the general public.
Further, as women who regularly interact with trauma survivors, and as survivors ourselves, the bill will effectively stall much needed reforms regarding protocols dictating how police interview and interact with victims of sexual violence.
Several months ago, the Nashville Community Oversight Board began examining the procedures guiding interactions between Metro Nashville Police Department (MNPD) and survivors of sexual violence. The investigation produced a report called, Policy Advisory Report on Sexual Misconduct and Trauma-Informed Victim Services. The investigation occurred after the COB found that a police officer may have improperly interviewed a sexual violence survivor. The officer indicated they were following police protocol, pointing directly to the need for community oversight of this and other protocols utilized by the department.
Since 2020 the Silent No Longer organization, comprised of former uniform and civilian women officers, has documented dozens of women who experienced sexual violence or harassment inside the MNPD. Just between March and November alone, there were 71 independent complaints to Silent No Longer by MNPD employees regarding officer sexual misconduct. Improper protocols involving the Memphis police department have also been reported in the news.
We worry about our sisters on the force as well as those in our diverse neighborhoods. We wonder, if this is how the police treat their peers with whom they work, how are they treating women they interact with among the general public? Such behavior by members of the police department is unacceptable and extremely concerning.
Civilian review and oversight boards play an essential role in making sure that the criminal justice system, including law enforcement, appropriately respond to victims of sexual assault. It also provides both uniform and civilian women another pathway to address mistreatment without fear of retaliation.
We need Tennessee lawmakers to oppose SB 0591/HB 0764. The bill will erase the hard work of women advocates who have been committed to addressing gender equity inside police departments and in the state generally. We, the signers of this Press Release, are willing to meet with the bill’s sponsors to discuss why civilian and oversight boards are important to trauma survivors and critical to the general public’s trust of those employed to maintain peace in our communities.
Susan Hudson McBride,