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Police Department

Domestic Violence Report, February 18, 2014

To All MNPD Members:

A recently published report addressing the response to incidents of domestic violence by various components of the Metropolitan Government and the criminal justice system has generated much discussion inside and outside the Metropolitan Nashville Police Department. Persons inside and outside of the Metropolitan Government have asked for my response and analysis of various portions of this report. As I have responded to these requests over the last week, it has occurred to me that, as valued members of this organization, you deserve to know, and need to know, my analysis of the report, as well as the direction we, together, as a law enforcement agency, will take.

I should start by stating, this is a very, very good police department. I can state that with complete confidence. I attend meetings with other police officials (Major Cities Chiefs, PERF, IACP, TACP, etc.) from across the nation on a regular basis. Ms. Brown, in my office, searches the headlines of news organizations across the nation, and the world, every day for any developments, trends, developing issues or major incidents involving law enforcement agencies. We screen those reports for any information that we can use to stay ahead of developing trends or to improve the service we provide. Many of these articles are forwarded to you for review.

Again, I can say with complete confidence, that this police department rates at the top. Over the year 2013 there was a more than 6 percent reduction in Part I crimes. This means that more than 2,000 fewer persons in Nashville were the victims of Part I crimes than the year before. The number of homicides recorded in calendar year 2013 (43) is the lowest number in the 50 year history of the Metropolitan Government. The 50 year average for Nashville is 77.6. While 43 homicides is 43 too many, we are moving in the right direction.

We now have 619 community groups, the highest number ever, that we meet with on a regular basis. We collectively attended more than 1,900 meetings over the last year.

In 2013, you collectively conducted 413,446 vehicle stops. You collectively had more than 1.3 million one-on-one face-to-face contacts with the public. Taking into account the crowds at all of the special events across Nashville, there were millions more contacts. All of this with only a handful of complaints. At every public meeting I attend, I receive compliments on the work you are doing. I am consistently stopped in stores and restaurants by our citizens who relate to me a positive encounter they have had with a member of this department. You have the confidence of the public, the Mayor and the Metropolitan Council. None of the above would happen, or be possible, without the hard work and dedication you demonstrate every day.

That does not mean, however, that our work is done. Over the more than 40 years I have been a law enforcement officer, there have been drastic improvements in our professionalism and in the service we provide to the public. Over the next 40 years there will be drastic improvements over the service we provide today. We will do that one year at a time.

This report should be viewed in that manner. No organization, including ours, is so good that it cannot improve. No organization is above criticism or critique. Any organization not willing to subject itself to inspection, criticism or critique is doomed to failure. There is information in this report we should take to heart and work to improve on.

First, a little about how the information for this report was compiled and the people volunteering their time to gather this information:

• The format of the report, for the most part, is anecdotal in nature. This was by design. No attempt was made to document the source of any information or attribute any statement to any individual person. This was not an audit. This endeavor was not for the purpose of singling out any individual for discipline or reprimand. No attempt will be made to seek out the identity of any individual. That would be counterproductive to the process.

• Some of the information in this report may not be entirely accurate or may not be supported with sufficient basis in fact. The purpose of this report is to give us a detached view of the perceived deficiencies, top to bottom, and to give us the insight to make improvements to the organization as a whole. Any individual discrepancies or errors should not be used as an attempt to discredit, disregard or diminish the value of this report.

• To accomplish this purpose, the volunteers undertaking this task were given unfettered access to all areas of the Police Department. No attempt was made to limit or screen their contact or interaction with any member of the department. In effect, these volunteers were embedded within the department and were able to experience all that occurred about them.

• Each of the more than 100 persons gathering this information volunteered their time and served without compensation. With the possible exception of one or two individuals who may have used this exercise to pursue their own agenda, these Team members were very talented and concerned citizens making personal sacrifices of their own time in an effort to improve their community. They are to be commended for their work.

• Finally, the report should be viewed in a context consistent with the language found on page 8 of the report. Taking this into account, this report is not an indictment of the Police Department but, instead, as an insightful view of some very isolated areas that we need to improve on. We will work together to bring about these improvements.

From page 8 of the report.
“This report was not designed to capture the many ways in which the domestic violence response system in Nashville does work well, especially through the dedication and hard work of countless Metro employees and nonprofit organizations in the city who have committed themselves to protecting and bettering people’s lives.”

From page 8 of the report.
“It is a bold step for a city to put itself under the microscope and examine where gaps in processes and systems exist. This assessment would not have been possible without the full cooperation of those Metro departments and agencies that were being assessed.”

From page 10 of the report.
“The Team did not report on the work of individuals, nor cite individuals for either exemplary or poor performance.”

No attempt will be made to seek out or to identify any individual who may have made any statement in furtherance of this report. Any such conversation or statement will remain confidential as promised at the onset of the project.

From page 45 of the report.
“One victim described her officer’s words as follows: He talked really bad to me saying how he went out of his way to help me (a few days earlier), and I went right back to him. He said I can’t believe you did this after he (profanity) in your face. This made me not want to go to court and see him (that officer) again. It make me not want to call the police in case it is him (that responds).”

It would be hard to imagine a context wherein words of this nature could have served any positive purpose. Victims of domestic violence are often in a vulnerable and precarious state and need our words of encouragement and not words that might discourage the acceptance of our help.

From page 47 of the report.
“In reviewing 20 randomly selected domestic violence reports, Team members found that officers reported offering victims assistance with an Order of Protection and with prosecution 83% of the time. Officers reported offering transportation to a safe place 61% of the time and counseling services only 44% of the time. Officers did not report offering assistance with prosecution in 17% of the cases reviewed.”

As is often said in police work, any failure to document can be interpreted as a failure to take the action. We can do a better job of documenting that we have offered assistance in obtaining an order of protection, that we have offered transportation to a safe place and that we have offered to assist in obtaining counseling.

From page 47 of the report.
“Team members observed some officers telling victims that they (the victims) do not have to go to court to prosecute the case. In an interview, one victim reported that her patrol officer told her that “all you have to do is not show up for court and it will be dismissed…”

“It appears that those officers may tell victims how to get their cases dismissed to de-escalate situations where victims do not want the offenders to be arrested.”

As useful as this might appear at the time to convince the victim to initiate prosecution of the offender, this advice is counterproductive to our goal of obtaining long term results. This is an issue that will be addressed in future training.

From page 50 of the report.
“Increased consistency in documenting when children are present on the scene and increased ability to respond to their immediate needs by providing necessary information and referral services.”

It is very necessary that we do a better job of viewing the “big picture” and gathering any information that might be useful in identifying individuals who are also exposed to the harmful impact of domestic violence occurrences.

From page 56 of the report.
“MNPD currently awards rewards/points for certain “self-initiated” police activities such as traffic stops (regardless whether a ticket has been issued), business checks and serving of warrants. While the particular conduct which is rewarded differs from precinct to precinct, the number of rewards/points that an officer earns impact certain conveniences and recognition that the officer receives . . . .”

Certainly, this is conclusionary assertion made with no basis in fact. Any attempt to operate a law enforcement agency on a “points” method would result in almost immediate failure of that agency. While the utilization of a “points” system might give the appearance that everyone is actively performing some task, little or no meaningful law enforcement activities would be accomplished. The Metropolitan Nashville Police Department would not be the law enforcement agency it is today if managed by a “points” system.

What is certain is that management of the MNPD has the expectation that all employees devote a reasonable amount of the time for which they are being paid to carry out legitimate and meaningful law enforcement activities. The public expects us to earn our pay and the public expects us to make every reasonable effort to ensure their safety and welfare. That is the expectation of management.

It is also certain that almost every member of the MNPD understands this and works very hard every day to meet that expectation. If this were not the case Nashville would not continue to see a reduction in Part I crimes. If this were not the case, Nashville would not have seen a 50 year low in the number of homicides for the year 2013. It was your hard work that made this possible.

I am very proud of the work you do.

That said, I do not discount the possibility that some member of this department may not have a clear view or understanding of their worth to the mission of the department and may have formulated such a thought process. I am saddened that someone may have reduced their life’s calling and their chosen career only doing what is necessary to appear to be engaged in meaningful law enforcement activities. I am confident that any individuals such as this are few and far between in the ranks of the MNPD. We will work very hard to bring any such individual into the mainstream of professional law enforcement service.

From page 69 of the report.
“Team members observed that patrol officers often did not recommend taking photographs of “minor” injuries. One Team member observed a victim who had a visible injury on her neck, yet the responding officers did not mention the possibility of taking photographs of that injury. When asked why s/he did not mention photographs, the officer responded that ‘she likely will not show up to court.’”

There can be no excuse for not gathering any and all physical evidence that may be available. Especially now that the MC75 devices are readily available and capable of taking quality pictures that are easily transmitted, wirelessly, into the case file.

From page 71 of the report.
“While patrol officers do an outstanding job of providing victims with their complaint numbers, they rarely advise victims that they will need that number to acknowledge receipt of the bond notification call.”

This is certainly an area we can improve on.

From page 75 of the report.
“In the past two and a half years, the DVD has had three (3) new captains. Each time a new captain had been appointed, the DVD’s focus areas have shifted as the new captain targets services toward areas s/he believes will have the greatest impact.”

First, let me say that each of the captains commanding the Domestic Violence Division have done an outstanding job. Each of them had built on the successes of their predecessors and advanced the service provided to the public. Changes were made as each of them grew professionally and demonstrated that they were ready for increased responsibilities. To hold them in place would have been a disservice to each of them as individuals, to the MNPD, to the MNPD Domestic Violence Division and, especially, to the public we serve.

In addition, these former DV commanders, now serving in other roles, have taken their DV experience, expertise and perspective to their new commands. I often rely on their collective expertise to move the Domestic Violence Division forward.

In discussing this matter with Team members, I was told that there were detectives that were confused about the direction of the Division as the new leaders assumed command. When asked for examples of how there could be confusion as to the mission of the Domestic Violence Division, the only example related to me was that one of the detectives had pointed out that one of the captains had “emphasized the service of [outstanding] warrants.” I suspect that what actually occurred was that the new captain RE-EMPHASIZED the service of outstanding warrants in that every captain who has commanded the Domestic Violence Division has emphasized the service of warrants.

Let me take this opportunity to re-emphasize the service of warrants. Warrants obtained to arrest the perpetrators of domestic violence should be served as immediately as possible. Bringing those individuals before a judge as soon as possible is very critical to the prevention of any additional occurrences of domestic violence.

The mission of the Domestic Violence Division is very clear. Every commander of the DVD has moved that mission forward.

Finally, over the past year I have found it necessary to address, privately, assertions being made about the Metropolitan Nashville Police Department Domestic Violence Division. To date, I have avoided addressing the assertions openly with the expectation that those persons with whom I had spoken would heed my guidance on this matter and quell the idle chatter by those responsible. In that this has not happened, and the assertions are becoming more public, it is necessary that all members of the Metropolitan Nashville Police Department have an understanding of the history of the MNPD Domestic Violence Division.

The assertions, most likely being pushed forward by one or more persons for self-serving purposes, are, generally, as follows: The MNPD Domestic Violence was once the “model” or “paragon” for the nation and now it has regressed to the point of being ineffective.

The following is a brief history of the MNPD Domestic Violence Division, as I have watched it closely, from its inception to date. After an extensive training period, the newly assigned members started their duties in 1994. Initially, the Division consisted of two (2) separate and distinct components under separate supervision. A detective component provided investigative expertise, much as exists today. There was also a uniformed officer component formed for the purpose of responding to the scene of domestic violence incidents.

From the start the Division was unable to rise to its full potential because of conflict among those in supervisory roles. Some were focused on the success of the Division and providing an increased level of service on domestic violence related issues to the citizens of Nashville. Some appeared to be more focused on pursuing their personal goals. Frankly, during this initial period the Commander of the Division was not given the support necessary to make this Division successful.

Also, within a short period of time, the uniformed component, responsible for providing a uniformed response to the scene of domestic violence incidents, made a determination that it was not feasible to respond to any calls for service. The rationale given was that because they could not respond to all calls for service it would be more appropriate for the Patrol Division to respond to all of the calls. The uniformed component then, on their own, assigned themselves to other duties. When it became apparent that these “other duties” were not contributing to the success of the Division, or the Department, the personnel in the uniformed component were transferred to the Patrol Division to assist in responding to calls to incidents of domestic violence.

The above factors caused the forward motion of the Division to stall out and the Division was unable to rise to its full potential. After a period of time there was intervention and the commander began receiving the support necessary to make the Division successful. The DV Division then became more cohesive and started rising to its potential.

Since that period of time the succeeding commanders of the DV Division, then Captain, now retired, Deputy Chief Valarie Meece, Captain Rita Baker, then Captain, now Commander Michele Donegan, Captain Dhana Jones and Captain Kay Lokey, have each steadily moved the Division forward. Each has continued to build on the successes of their predecessor and each of them, individually and collectively, have done an excellent job in moving the Division forward.

Concerning the present service provided by the MNPD Domestic Violence Division, we rank at the top. Using the information provided in this report, MNPD management personnel surveyed each of the cities cited as being exemplary. In each of these cities, when measuring police services side by side, the services provided by the MNPD Domestic Violence Division are comparable or better. Any individual(s) promoting the idea that the MNPD Domestic Violence Division does not rate favorably on a national scale is either misinformed or pursuing their own agenda.

Taking all of the above into account, this report is very insightful, informative and will serve as a catalyst to move us forward. I know that each of you will do everything possible to make this happen.