Group Alleges Racial Profiling In Traffic Stops

Posted at 5:53 PM, Oct 25, 2016

Civil rights group Gideon's Army released a reporton Tuesday alleging racial profiling by Metro Nashville Police when it comes to conducting traffic stops. 

"I never thought I'd hear myself say this, but at my age, my greatest fear is a traffic stop," KHAOS Thomas, one of the people interviewed in the report, said. 

The report is titled "Driving While Black" and uses statistics gathered from the Metro Nashville Police Traffic Stop Database as well as anecdotes from members of the community. 

"Metro police officers regularly intimidate, harass, and unfairly exert their authority over black drivers," Evan Bunch, a leader with Gideon's Army, said. 

Key statistics in the report include that from 2011 to 2015, metro officers conducted more than 7 times the amount of traffic stops than the national average, and black drivers were up to 5 times more likely to be stopped.

In about 80% of the traffic stops, those pulled over are let off with a warning.

"This means hundreds of thousands of drivers are being stopped and searched unnecessarily every year," Bunch said. 

But police contend that it's not unnecessary, instead saying that they patrol high-crime neighborhoods in order to combat crime, and these traffic stops and searches help them find criminals and better protect the citizens they serve. 

Still, Gideon's Army is asking the Department of Justice to investigate these findings in hopes they will launch a formal investigation. 

"While Nashville may not have seen the same events that led to the uprisings in Ferguson, Baltimore, Baton Rouge, and Dallas, MNPD exhibits the same, if not worse systemic policing practices as other police departments around the country," Taneisha Gillyard, a leader with Gideon's Army, said. 

News Channel 5 received the following response to the release of the report from Metro Nashville Police public affairs manager, Don Aaron: 

"Nashville police officers are deployed at a higher degree to where the victims of crime are, in other words, to areas where there is a higher prevalence of crime and higher requests for police services.  You have likely seen the crime density maps and statistical information provided to members of the Metro Council at last Tuesday’s discussion of gun violence.  I am attaching that report in the event you do not have it.  As you compare the density maps, you see a correlation in the geographical areas of crime and vehicle stops.

Officers of the MNPD are encouraged to be proactive and visible, and to make lawful vehicle stops when warranted.  It is true that, on average, 80% or so of vehicle stops result in warnings only.  In Nashville, vehicle stops are not about tickets, but to enhance safety through warnings AND to better protect the community.  There are more officers, including Flex Units, deployed in higher crime areas at the discretion of precinct commanders.

You have likely heard the phrase, “looking beyond the stop.”  MNPD officers do that, and have discovered firearms, other evidence of crimes, and wanted felons during vehicle stops.  The MNPD believes vehicle stops are an effective tool in the continuing effort to enhance Nashville’s safety for all citizens, certainly including those who live in disadvantaged neighborhoods.

The MNPD is committed to working with the neighborhoods to enhance safety and improve quality of life.  Each of our 8 precincts has a Community Coordinating Sergeant.  These people attend literally hundreds of meetings in communities each year."

Police also sent out a map of crimes in the Nashville area as well as traffic stops, showing the correlation between crime and where police are pulling drivers over. 

You can also read Metro Nashville Police's annual reports, which they have been releasing since 2008 with maps included, here.