Bob Clement on Thursday opened a new front in his mayoral campaign, but his new line of criticism was not directed at his rival Karl Dean. It was directed at the leadership of the Metro Nashville Police Department.
At a press conference in which he called for increasing the number of officers dedicated to patrolling the Hickory Hollow business district of Antioch, Clement said it was time for the police department to come under new leadership, and hinted that he, if elected, would do so by looking to replace Chief Ronal Serpas, who has led the department since 2003.
“A mayor is CEO — he’s a planner, he’s an organizer. He’s the chief architect of the city. And the Chief of Police does report to the mayor,” Clement said.
Clement refused to say directly if he would look to remove Serpas, even though he acknowledged it would be more difficult for him to do so than to remove some other top Metro officials should he be elected.
“The next mayor the first day can have a new deputy mayor, a new director of finance and a new director of law… And under civil service [guidelines Serpas is] protected,” Clement said. “But I’ll say this to you; it’s very, very important that the people of Nashville feel safe and secure. A lot of them don’t feel safe and secure these days.”
In an interview later in the day, Serpas disagreed with Clement’s assessment, and noted that a recent independent survey put the general public’s satisfaction with the Police Department at 80 percent.
Serpas said that regardless of the outcome of the election, he has no plans to step down until the 10 years he committed to serving as chief have expired.
However, at yesterday’s press conference near Hickory Hollow Mall, Clement took direct aim at police policies that have been the hallmark of Serpas’ tenure — namely a higher degree of emphasis on traffic enforcement as means to deter and fight crime.
“I’d rather for our police to be in the neighborhoods and the communities than writing traffic tickets on the Interstate highway system,” Clement said. “The Hickory Hollow business district, which is the heart and soul of Antioch, does not feel safe and secure. We only have one patrol car in the area. And we must do better.”
According to Serpas, police statistics show that officers make less than 8 percent of their traffic stops on the highways that run through Nashville. The department points out that because of its use of “Flex” units and specialized units such as the Gang Unit, there are never any areas of the city that have only one officer on patrol.
Serpas vigorously defended his department, and said that Clement and those who criticize traffic enforcement are ignoring facts.
“I can’t image Mr. Clement’s campaign or Mr. Dean’s campaign or anyone’s campaign would want us to release the nearly 19,000 individuals — that’s nearly 24 percent of all our arrests — we made in 2006 as a result of traffic stops.”
He said Clement was wrong to say that traffic enforcement slows down police response time, another charge Clement made on Thursday.
“Emergency response to people who are in imminent danger has been about nine minutes for the last 10 years and continues to be nine minutes,” Serpas said. “What slows down response is the 74 percent increase in officer activity. And officers are being pulled in so many different directions… None of the top 10 types of calls we’re dispatched to have anything to do with robbery, rape or assault. They have to do with accidents, alarms and asking officers for assistance.”