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Tennessee Republicans want to get rid of community-led police oversight boards, even after Tyre Nichols’ death

Nashville's Community Oversight Board asks Commander Carlos Lara questions at its September meeting.
Paige Pfleger
Nashville's Community Oversight Board asks Commander Carlos Lara questions at its September meeting.

Just days after body camera footage was released showing the brutal beating of Tyre Nichols by Memphis Police officers, Tennessee Republicans filed a bill that would take police oversight powers away from civilian boards.

The bill would abolish existing community oversight boards, like those in Nashville, Memphis and Knoxville, and replace them with something called a “police advisory and review committee,” which would be appointed by the mayor.

“It really is clear to me that accountability in this state is something that many up there at the capitol … they just don’t want it in the way that we’ve been doing it,” says Jill Fitcheard, head of Nashville’s Community Oversight Board. “And the way that we’ve been doing it is proven to be successful.”

Fitcheard says Nichols’ death is further proof that independent oversight is essential.

“We can’t really just, at this point, just kind of act like what happened in Memphis doesn’t affect our state, where policing has been in the news, national news, like multiple times since the beginning of the year,” Fitcheard says. “And then you come out with a bill saying we don’t need that kind of oversight? I mean, it’s just — it doesn’t make sense. It’s nonsensical.”

Fitcheard says this bill would also take power away from the voters who overwhelmingly supported the creation of the board to hold police accountable.

In Memphis, Nichols’ killing has spurred calls for a more powerful community oversight board — one with subpoena power.

Makayla McCree is a member of Nashville’s COB and says that these boards should be growing in power and popularity — not shrinking.

“These are necessary boards,” McCree toldThis is Nashville. “We need the expansion of the boards, and we need investment, financial investment in these boards to make them operate correctly.”

The bill’s sponsors, Sen. Mark Pody and Rep. Elaine Davis, did not respond to WPLN’s request for comment.

Paige Pfleger covers criminal justice for WPLN News. Previously she has worked in Central Ohio at WOSU News, covering criminal justice and the addiction crisis, and was named Ohio's reporter of the year by the Associated Press in 2019. Her work has appeared nationally on NPR, The Washington Post, Marketplace, and PRI's The World, and she has worked in the newsrooms of The Tennessean, Michigan Radio, WHYY, Vox and NPR headquarters in DC.
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