Tennessee to use virus relief dollars to train more police

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee will funnel $300,000 of federal coronavirus relief money to help cover the cost of 90 additional police cadet scholarships as part of Gov. Bill Lee’s initiative to strengthen policing.

The announcement comes as advocates across the nation have called for systemic reforms to policing, including redirecting money build the capacity of first-responders to handle mental health crises and other community needs. The most strident of these demands call for defunding the police — something Lee, a Republican, has spurned and described as “meaningless.”

Instead, Lee on Thursday touted the recommendations that his top administration officials drafted with input from law enforcement groups.

“Through this partnership, our state has created one of the most comprehensive and collaborative law enforcement advancements in recent Tennessee history while also working to recruit top-tier talent to our force,” Lee said in a statement.

Rep. G.A. Hardaway, chairman of the state’s legislative Black Caucus, countered the governor’s group lacked representation from citizens who “suffer the most from police conduct.”

The Memphis Democrat noted that Lee’s recommendations had “several deficiencies” on various issues including mental health, transparency, body cameras and whistle blower protections.

“The glaring omission of grassroots organizations’ leadership is of concern to Black legislators,” Hardaway said in a statement.

Rep. Rick Staples, a Black Democrat from Knoxville and vice chair of the Black Caucus, was a member of the governor’s task force that formed the recommendations.

Lee had previously announced in July that the Peace Officers Standards & Training Commission will have increased accessibility to the national registry that tracks officers who have lost licenses or certificates due to misconduct — known as the National Decertification Index.

However, on Thursday, Lee’s administration noted that law enforcement agencies will now have to provide more details when explaining why an officer departed an agency, including disciplinary actions and procedures.

“Utilizing the National Decertification Index will improve information sharing between our law enforcement agencies, strengthen accountability and ensure bad actors are handled appropriately,” said Safety and Homeland Security Commissioner Jeff Long in a statement.

Meanwhile, the minimum training hours for cadets in Tennessee’s law enforcement training academy will increase from 400 to 488 hours. Curriculums will be updated to require a minimum of 16 course hours designated for relevant topics, such as proper use of force and positive officer interactions.

According to a news release, sample policies on use of force and duty to intervene were distributed to all local agency heads. Additionally, a checklist on use of force policy was provided to agencies to make sure their current practices were in alignment.