Following Nashville's Lead, Chattanooga Watchdog Group Renews Call For Police Oversight Board

A local watchdog group is renewing its call for a community oversight board that would allow citizens to investigate alleged police misconduct after the city of Nashville recently voted to create such an entity.

"The Chattanooga Police Department is currently allowed to oversee [itself] through Internal Affairs, and [has] consistently failed to discipline or fire its violent ... and dishonest officers who patrol the streets," Concerned Citizens for Justice, an activist group, said in a statement Tuesday. "This is not what democracy looks like. Community members, especially those directly impacted by police violence and misconduct, must be directly involved in the process of holding police accountable."

The group's announcement, a request it has been making for many years, follows last week's successful grassroots effort by black activists in Nashville to establish an 11-person oversight board that has the authority to investigate alleged officer misconduct with subpoenas and to help mediate conflicts and recommends punishments. Though Tennessee House Majority Leader Glen Casada, R-Franklin, has said he's looking into whether he will introduce legislation in 2019 to pre-empt the board, advocates of the board say it's a necessary avenue for citizens who want to feel confident their complaints are addressed by people not just in law enforcement.

When Chattanooga Police Department officers are accused of misconduct, either by citizens or by their colleagues, an investigator from the department's internal affairs division looks into the factual basis and makes a finding. Of the 40 internal investigations from 2017, 20 resulted in suspensions, two resulted in terminations, and three people resigned under investigation, according to city statistics. The 2016 numbers are comparable.

Police spokeswoman Elisa Myzal said Tuesday civilians have input throughout the investigative process.

"An oversight committee is currently in place for the Chattanooga Police Department," she wrote in an email, referring to the Administrative Review Committee. That's a seven-person committee made up of three civilians, three police officers and an assistant chief of police that meets when "a sufficient number of cases are pending," reviews internal investigations and makes recommendations to the chief. The group has been around "many years," Myzal wrote in an email.

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