NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — As protesters demand cities defund police departments, organizers explain what the movement could mean for Metro Nashville Police.
Organizers say the push isn't new. It's been around for decades, but it's getting renewed attention after the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, who were killed by police officers.
In Nashville, the push centers around Metro's spending. In Mayor John Cooper's proposed 2021 budget, the city would spend a total of $396 million on police, jails and courts. Criminal justice spending makes up about 16 percent of the Metro budget and 35 percent of its general funds. For every one Nashvillian, the city spends $570.70 on criminal justice.
Those numbers have grown significantly as Nashville expanded over the last two decades. In 2001 Nashville spent $187 million on criminal justice, making up 12 percent of spending and 32 percent of the general funds. In 2001, the city spent $346.15 per Nashvillian on criminal justice.
"This is more of the same," Erica Perry said. Perry works with the Nashville People's Budget Coalition and explained 'defunding the police' doesn't mean disbanding the department, instead, it means cutting criminal justice funding, and instead investing that money into low-income areas and communities of color.
"We want to see money taken from the police department from the sheriff's department and reallocated towards education...to additional accessible housing, funding towards jobs, funding towards violence interruption, transportation," Perry said.
Perry said shifting funding from the police to community groups could lower crime rates by providing aid and preventing incidents before they happen.
"We've been talking to community members about what keeps us safe, and people don't talk about police, they talk about 'when I can call my neighbor,'" Perry said, citing a survey the Nashville People's Budget Coalition finished this week. "People instinctively know what keeps them safe, we just want to have the courage to invest in those things."
Perry said the survey showed most people would want additional funding to go toward education and property tax relief.
But police officer advocates express concerns about the growing call to make cuts to MNPD.
"This notion that if we defund the police all of our communities are just going to live in harmony and there will be no crime and be no violence, it doesn't stand to reason," James Smallwood, the President of the Nashville Fraternal Order of Police, said. "We should make sure our community has all the resources they need, but taking from the police to fund them is like robbing Peter to pay Paul. It doesn’t solve the problem, it makes them worse.”
Smallwood said any cuts to the department's budget would likely lead to fewer officers on Nashville streets. Payroll makes up nearly 90 percent of the MNPD budget.
"If we go away, what you're going to see is a lot more chaos," Smallwood said.
All that debate lands on the steps of the Metro Courthouse, which was also at the center of protests earlier this month. Any budgets have to be approved by city leaders, and changes to the Mayor's budget proposal have to come in the form of an alternate budget, and a budget must be adopted by the end of June, according to the city's charter. City leaders say a significant change to Cooper's proposal is unlikely for the 2021 budget.
When asked about the calls to defund the police, a spokesperson for the mayor's office gave NewsChannel 5 the following statement:
"As he has mentioned before, Mayor Cooper was encouraged to see so many Nashvillians participate in the budget process at the recent Metro Council meeting, and our office is listening closely to the perspectives shared."