Metro precinct policy forces community groups to find new meeting space

Posted at 5:44 PM, Jun 12, 2019
and last updated 2019-06-12 20:56:42-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — A new Metro Nashville Police Department precinct policy is forcing some local nonprofits and groups to find a different location to hold meetings.

In May, precinct commanders and the police community coordinators met to talk about how the community used its seven precinct community rooms. In the past, some groups used the rooms after business hours.

Newschannel 5 learned the precinct community rooms may have operated differently; so a new uniformed policy was created to allow groups to use the rooms between 7:30 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. on weekdays and no longer on weekends. The community rooms may only be used after business hours if police called for or hosted an event. A MNPD Precinct Meeting Room Use Request form was also developed.

Charles Sumner belongs to several organizations including the Nashville Chapter Americans United For Separation of Church and State. Sumner said the group has used the West Precinct Community room in the evening since 2012 because of its convenience.

"Most of our meetings for committees are 7 p.m. and they end about 8:45 p.m. so if the precinct closes at 4pm we don't have much of a chance to use it at all. We could come at 6 p.m. but some people might have trouble getting there from work. You'd have to skip your dinner. It's just an inconvenience," he said.

Deputy Chief of Police Brian Johnson said the city is experiencing unprecedented growth and the MNPD along with other Metro departments are called upon to provide the same or greater levels of service all while departments struggle to keep up with said growth.

"Our present policy does not differ from that of the Parks Department or the Public Library system in regard to meeting spaces in buildings generally not being available after business hours. Meeting spaces are available at restaurants in the evenings. Nashville’s hotels and churches also have meeting space," Johnson said.

Sumner disagrees that groups using the community rooms will hinder police staffing. The community rooms are located in front of the buildings separated from the rest of the precinct.

"I'm guessing I may have been there 70 different times with one organization or another. I've never seen an officer come to any of the 70 times I've been there. Only time is when the door had to be unlocked," he said.

At Large Council member Sharon Hurt said she hopes the new policy is reversed saying the facilities were built using taxpayers dollars. Johnson noted that capital improvement funds used to build the facilities do not cover operating budget costs suck as employee salaries and overtime if an officer were to remain to oversee the community rooms.

Theo Washington with Metro Council plans to hold a community meeting this month to hear input from groups. A time and place has not been scheduled.

NewsChannel 5 has learned community center hours for Metro Nashville Parks facilities are 6am-8:30pm (Mon-Thu), 6am-7:30pm (Fri), and 8:00am-12:00pm (Sat). Neighborhood Centers: 10am-5:30pm (Mon-Fri), closed on Saturdays.

These are summer operation hours, which change during the fall and spring.