The Tennessee Senate is scheduled on Monday to vote on whether local community oversight boards must undergo citizen police academy.
If passed, current community oversight board members will have until June 30 of next year to complete a citizen police academy or any similar program. After that, any members appointed after July 1 of this year will have one year. Any members who fail to complete the academy or similar program will have their voting powers revoked. Voting rights would be restored upon completion of the academy.
The Senate considered the bill on Tuesday. The legislature moved to conform the bill to match that of the House.
State Senator Mike Bell (R-Riceville) said that a vast majority of cities offer citizen police academies. He pointed out that trainings are required for members of other boards, such as utility boards and school boards.
“This requirement, I think, will make these boards better,” said Bell. “This would just require those people who serve on these police oversight boards to get an idea of what a law enforcement officer goes through every day.”
Bell added that these academies last about 9 to 12 weeks on average, three hours once a week. He noted that he hasn’t found any that cost money to attend.
State Senator Jeff Yarbro (D-Nashville) engaged in a lengthy back-and-forth with Bell over the bill.
Yarbro asked whether there were any other unpaid boards that require the completion of 12-week programs requiring three hours of class attendance once a week. He called it the equivalent of one college class credit.
Bell said he wasn’t aware of any other boards that do so. He alluded to reporting by The Tennessee Star discovering that one of the Metro Nashville Community Oversight Board members was a convicted felon and therefore not eligible to serve.
In response, Yarbro said that he fears that this bill creates too many barriers to entering these boards. Bell said the bill is a necessary action to admit individuals to these “high profile” and important positions.
State Senator Heidi Campbell (D-Nashville) disagreed that individuals with prior policing or military background wouldn’t be exempt from the bill. Bell responded that it wouldn’t hurt former officers or soldiers to go through the academy, since criminal justice laws and practices are apt to change. He compared it to annual trainings for other professions.
In support of the bill, State Senator Todd Gardenhire (R-Chattanooga) said that these academies would better inform community activists interested in serving on the boards. State Senator Kerry Roberts (R-Springfield) added that familiarizing individuals with the law enforcement profession was of crucial importance – he said his only problem with the bill is that it doesn’t go far enough.
A House amendment rewrote the bill, loosening some of the original provisions and strengthening others. The adopted provisions extended the deadline for current community oversight board members to complete police academy training from January to June of next year. It also extended the academy completion deadline from 6 months to one year for any members appointed after this July.
Although the original language of the bill exempted those community oversight boards without citizen police academies from completing such a program, the amendment removed that exemption.
State Representative Michael Curcio (R-Dickson) sponsored the amendment.
Around one month ago, the Tennessee House passed the bill largely along party lines. State Representatives Barbara Cooper (D-Memphis), Johnny Shaw (D-Bolivar), and John Windle (D-Livingstone) voted in favor of it.
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