Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Mayor Karl Dean's bean counter investigation has become an obstacle to community policing

The subject of increasing crimes just outside of the Central Police Precinct in areas north and west of Salemtown came up during last night's Salemtown Neighbors business meeting. During that discussion a police officer mentioned to the group that the Metro investigation of crime stat collection (which was launched by Mayor Karl Dean after former Chief Ronal Serpas left to take the helm of the New Orleans force) has left some MNPD confusion on how to document some crimes, so they end up defaulting to one category like burglary with the idea that they can go back later and change it to comply.

I indicated before that I believe that this investigation was started because two elected officials in particular--Jim Gotto and Karl Dean--have political aspirations for future elections. Allow me to suggest that raising doubts about local law enforcement in the absence of lightning rods like Serpas gives them both greater visibility and the appearance of the mantle of reform. What is not adequately reported by the local press, which has its own penchant for pre-election melodrama, is that Nashville joins other Tennessee municipalities with statistics gathering methods at odds with those of TBI. The investigation looks like a distraction.

Also underreported in Nashville is news that the new New Orleans Chief of Police is enjoying the same skyrocketing public-satisfaction numbers that he got here in Nashville in spite of some controversial policies on traffic stops and his hard-nosed tendency to challenge governing officials at the local and state levels. The positive numbers do not help Mr. Gotto's and Mayor Dean's witch hunts locally, which is probably why no one is calling attention to them here.

However, if last night's Salemtown meeting is any indication, Metro's investigation of the police department's crime-gathering methods is actually hurting neighborhoods like Salemtown. There was a palpable air of confusion last night given that all burglaries reported might not actually be burglaries because state and local bean counters cannot agree on how crimes should be categorized, as if that matters to victims and potential victims.

Mayor Dean, who ran his last election on lowering crime in Nashville not on analyzing how that crime gets reported, needs to stop using the police and their number crunching as a political football in a match to win a second term. Honest discrepancies with the TBI can be worked out. At a neighborhood level I have not sensed that anyone really cares about whether what Metro Police call a robbery TBI calls a burglary after the fact.

Neighborhoods do care about clear communication from the police about crimes impinging on our communities. And we do care that career politicians keep from obstructing that communication.

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