That DWB report…

On October 25, 2016, a report entitled “Driving While Black – A Report on Racial Profiling in Metro Nashville Police Department Traffic Stops” was released by Gideon’s Army in collaboration with about a dozen other community organizations. The report claims that data from the Metro Nashville Police Department traffic stop database “…shows that ‘driving while black’ constitutes a unique series of risks, vulnerabilities, and dangers at the hands of the Metro Nashville Police Department (MNPD) that white drivers do not experience in the same way” and “…shows that MNPD’s traffic stop practices impose a severe disparate or discriminatory impact on the predominantly black and low-income communities that MNPD’s traffic stop and search regime disproportionately targets.”

These are serious claims and warrant a response from Metro.

Councilmember Erica Gilmore and I filed a resolution asking MNPD to let us know whether the data in the report is accurate, and whether there is additional data that would help put the report’s data and conclusions in context. We also filed an ordinance asking for traffic stop data to be reported to the Council annually with crime reports that are already required to be produced.

The resolution was considered by the Council’s Public Safety Committee at our last meeting (Nov. 15), and deferred. Several committee members, and the MNPD officer who was present, had not yet read the report, and I was asked by committee members to arrange for Gideon’s Army to meet with MNPD to describe the data and methodology used in the report. Both the resolution and ordinance will be before the Public Safety Committee on Dec. 6.

There have been some developments.

First, there won’t be a meeting between Gideon’s Army and MNPD. I started with Gideon’s Army and the bottom line is that they would want any meeting to be public or recorded, and I wasn’t comfortable with that request. I felt like the scope of the proposed meeting was narrow and sort of technical — just to talk about the source of data and the report methodology. I felt like the presence of a recording device would push all sides to state their formal positions and conclusions rather than focus on actually understanding the data and the methodology. Conversations about a meeting concluded with Gideon’s Army sending me a letter, copying the Mayor, Vice Mayor, and many Council members. As I have told them, I respect their position, but that’s not the kind of meeting I had in mind.

Second, despite the fact that there won’t be a meeting, it looks like MNPD understands what data was used in the report.  On Nov. 29, Chief Anderson sent me a Memorandum, and two reports (here and here). Chief Anderson copied the Vice Mayor and the Public Safety Committee on his email also. In these materials, Chief Anderson supplied the data requested by the proposed ordinance for 2015 (although there is one detail I am trying to pin down with Chief Anderson still).

I want to make sure I am clear about my purpose with the proposed resolution and ordinance. The current public narrative is that: (a) a group of 16 community organizations put out a 213 page report that looks at first blush to be pretty well annotated and footnoted, and apparently written by a variety of credentialed social scientists and others; and (b) other than Don Aaron’s comments quoted in the Nashville Scene on October 25, I am not aware of any substantive response from the Metro government.

I think it is fair for Metro (through MNPD) to respond with “that data is wrong…here is the correct data” or “that data is right, but you really need to also be looking at x, y or z to properly understand what is going on” or “that data is right, and we stand by it because that’s the natural outgrowth of our policing strategies” or something.

The resolution simply asks if the data in the report is accurate and if there is other data we should be looking at for context. And the ordinance asks for traffic stop data to be reported annually with other crime reports that are already required. We should pass this legislation.

Bob Mendes

Bob Mendes represents all of Nashville as a Council-At-Large member of Nashville’s Metro Council. He is Chair of the Council’s Charter Revision Committee, a member of the Metropolitan Audit Committee, and a member of the Council’s Budget & Finance Committee, Rules & Confirmations Committee, and Ad Hoc Affordable Housing Committee. Bob also practices business law at Waypoint Law PLLC. Bob’s complete bio is here. You can follow Bob @mendesbob.