NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Davidson County Sheriff Daron Hall is searching for common ground as he writes in-depth about what he believes it means to defund police.
The op-ed piece published in the Tennessee Lookout Monday describes why it’s time to put aside the politics and focus on how reallocating money could make law enforcement more efficient.
His candid nature in the article was matched by the same demeanor in an interview just outside his new office in the Madison area.
Sheriff Hall admits there are friends who he knows, will no longer be friends after reading his article.
He’s not bothered by the idea, but says none of what he wrote should come as a surprise to those who’ve followed his career.
If any of these same people would look at Sheriff Hall’s track record, they would know he’s spent the last four years rethinking how we use money in law enforcement. It’s just called something different now.
“I felt obligated to say, maybe there is common ground in that conversation,” said Hall.
This realization came with its own difficulties, as Hall describes how at first he was very defensive at the mention of defunding police. He says he understands why some of his colleagues shutter at the idea because the tone of what’s being said often appears accusatory.
He says it takes getting past the politics driving people apart, to focus on the social programs that could benefit from any of the money being defunded.
To use one example, Sheriff Hall says right now the first call people make for someone they believe to be out of their mind, is to police.
Whereas in other modern countries around the world, they have a separate and better-trained group ready to answer the call.
30 percent of the jail population in Davidson County has some form of mental health issue.
Sheriff Hall says it would only make sense then to take 30 percent of the budgets from all law enforcement and criminal justice entities and apply it to mental health resources. This is where Sheriff Hall says we can make the first change. By no longer relying on jails to serve as “de facto mental health institutions.”
“I don’t know a police officer in this county who wants to be dealing with an issue like mental illness and homelessness. That’s not what they signed up for. If they will settle down and listen to what’s really being said, then maybe we can find the wording that's comfortable and ultimately we’re all saying the same thing,” said Hall.
One way to help curb the issue of locking up those with mental health concerns is by offering an alternative. It just happens that in Davidson County, Sheriff Hall has already built such a facility.
“I took the $150 million jail facility budget, defunded $10 million of it, and opened the mental health care center that opens next month,” said Hall.
The facility directly adjacent to the existing jail will help screen individuals for any mental health issues before they’re ever processed.
Sheriff Hall says in his ideal scenario, you would spend money on the specialists who would do the screening, rather than train officers on how to respond to these types of calls.
He says officers already spend the majority of their training on law enforcement, although most of their calls are related to homelessness, addiction or mental health.
In a statement from Metro Nashville Police, they tell us they support the call for more resources to help the mentally ill. They do however caution against the idea of taking police away from mental health calls that have the potential of becoming violent.
The Nashville People’s Budget Coalition is holding a defund police event on Tuesday at Public Square. That event begins at 5:30 in the evening.