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Senator Wants Tool To Force Departments To Report Bad Cops

Posted at 6:39 PM, Dec 14, 2015

A Tennessee state lawmaker is calling for changes following a NewsChannel 5 investigation into the Metro Police Department.

Sen. Mike Bell said police departments that fail to notify the state when their officers get into serious trouble need to be held accountable.

NewsChannel 5 Investigates first exposed how Metro repeatedly failed to report officers who were forced to leave the department.

Now, Bell said, the bottom line is public safety. He believes police departments, like everyone else, need to follow the law. And when they don't, he said, there needs to be consequences.

"We need to come up with a way to hold them accountable to protect the citizens of the state," the Riceville Republican explained.

Bell said he was very concerned after our investigation revealed that Metro had failed to notify state regulators about dozens of its officers who had been suspended for 15 days or longer and forced to leave the department because of serious disciplinary issues.

It wasn't until after we discovered the lapse that Metro turned over more than 90 officers' files to the state's Peace Officer Standards & Training (POST) Commission, in many cases, months or even years late.

"The current law says you shall report this to the POST and Metro didn't abide by that at all. They violated that law. But, when you look, there's no remedy. There's no way to slap Metro on the wrist and say, 'You violated the law,' Bell told NewsChannel 5 Investigates.

The Republican lawmaker then revealed that he's now working on a bill that will allow the state to punish departments that fail to report.

Bell is himself a member of the POST Commission, which essentially licenses officers to work in Tennessee. And, reporting, he said, is crucial because POST can then decertify these officers and keep them from going to work for other police departments.

"That's the whole reason we created the certification process, to protect the citizens of this state and it appears that that broke down in this situation," Bell said.

Back in July, NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked Metro Police Chief Steve Anderson about nearly four dozen officers whose files we'd reviewed.

"In many cases, these are officers facing termination and you're letting them leave the department in good standing?" we asked the chief.

"Exactly," Anderson replied.

Metro's failure to report to the POST Commission first came to light back in July when we discovered the police department routinely made deals with officers who got into trouble.

"Some of these are pretty serious?" we asked the chief.

"Oh, yes, very serious," he confirmed.

"You didn't want these officers on your force?" we further probed.

"I did not," Anderson replied.

"Do you think another police department would want these officers on their force?" we then inquired.

"They should not," Chief Anderson responded.

But in many of these deals, we found, Metro agreed not to actively seek POST decertification.

Yet, Chief Anderson blamed Metro's failure to report on a series of record-keeping mistakes.

"I wouldn't know Chief Anderson if he walked in this room, never seen his face, but to blame this on a clerical error is outrageous with all of this other information that we have." Senator Mike Bell responded.

And Bell added that he hopes his legislation will ensure that what happened with Metro will not be repeated by any police department in Tennessee ever again.

"That's unacceptable, that's unacceptable," Bell said.

Bell is still working out details of his bill.

At this point, he's not sure who will enforce it, whether it'll be POST or another agency.

As far as how would police departments that fail to report would be punished, that too is yet to be determined.

Bell told NewsChannel 5 Investigates that fines have been discussed, but he's hesitant about issuing fines because that is punishing taxpayers.

Right now, he said, they're finding out how other states enforce this kind of rule and what seems to work best.

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