Two Metro Council members took issue with several of Police Chief Ronal Serpas’ management decisions during a Metro budget hearing Tuesday.
Among the decisions that drew complaints was the lack of an outside audit for Metro Police crime statistics and the use of ‘take-home’ cars.
“I don’t believe anybody in this government needs a take-home car unless they’re subject to be called-in in an emergency situation,” said Metro Councilman Michael Craddock, calling the car a “perk.”
Serpas and his top seven aides all have take-home cars paid for by the Metro Government. Serpas defended the $2.64 per day expenditure per car, saying all of the top staff must be on-call 24 hours a day.
The chief was at the hearing as Metro Council and the Mayor’s office weigh next year’s budget.
Beyond the issue of take-home cars, Councilman Jim Gotto questioned whether the police department shouldn’t have an outside audit of the police department’s crime statistics.
“When you’re using that system and you’ve had problems other places, it just seems to me that just for the perception of the public — and even the officers — that it’s a good idea to have someone outside the department look at what we’re doing and make sure we’re doing it correctly,” explained Gotto.
Serpas defended his decisions, firing back at Gotto that all of the police department’s numbers were available for any organization that wanted to crunch them. And he went on to say that questioning the department’s numbers was akin to accusing police officers of lying.
“We have multiple ways of checking data against the commanders that they don’t even know is being checked,” Serpas said. “That’s one of the ways to ensure there’s integrity in the information.”
He also said that the department randomly surveys 700 victims every year to make sure the police report matches the victim’s account.
“I doubt very seriously that anybody in the Council has read what we’ve actually published on how to audit data and be a national leader in auditing data,” Serpas said.
The exchange between Serpas and Gotto was heated at times — a reaction that Gotto questioned after the hearing.
“Quite frankly, I don’t understand Chief Serpas’ getting agitated about that …If I had confidence that everything was fine, I would welcome and internal audit,” Gotto said.
Serpas used the budget hearing to report some numbers that show crime is down for the fifth consecutive year in 2008 — with violent crime down 5.2 percent and property crimes were down overall 1.5 percent.
The chief said he continues to encourage traffic stops as a way to prevent crime, a practice that continues to draw complaints. Police officers averaged 5,732 vehicle stops per week last year, up from 2,424 stops per week in 2003. Officers wrote tickets in 53 percent of those stops.
The budget hearings Tuesday also included reports from the Sheriff’s Office and Nashville Fire Department, and the issue of longevity pay remains a concern for all of them, directors said.
However, all said they wouldn’t be able to reinstate longevity pay from within their own budgets without laying off more employees.
Police and Sheriff’s departments are particularly concerned about fleet reductions as well, the Council learned.
Serpas said the police fleet’s budget is expected to be cut by about $700,000 and the Sheriff’s office nearly $119,000. However, both of those figures were disputed by the Metro Finance department Tuesday.
According to the Mayor’s proposed budget, the Police fleet was only supposed to be cut $450,000 and the Sheriff’s only $56,000.