Summer in Nashville seemed to grind to a start this year. On Memorial Day, during the season-opening weekend of Metro-owned Wave Country, Metro police and park police shut down the park early after “numerous teenage fights” and disorderly patrons, presumably there for respite from the late-spring heat, drew the attention of The Heat.
When management decided to stop allowing new guests into Wave Country, already stocked with some 2,000 people according to police, those would-be guests took to climbing the fence. Metro officers responded that Monday afternoon to back up park police and close the park for the rest of the day.
Two days later, at the kickoff of this summer’s Movies in the Park series at the Centennial Park at the bandshell, viewers of 500 Days of Summer were joined in the park by another large contingency of mostly youths apparently on hand to hang out, at times yelling and causing scenes with no apparent connection to the movie viewing or other normal park activities.
Sometime after 10:30 that night, a while after the movie wrapped, park police supplemented by Metro officers told a large group of teenagers gathered near the steps of the Parthenon to disperse after officers saw them throwing gang signs. As the crowd moved away, gunshots rang out, sending one bullet into the left knee of a 15-year-old — a juvenile who had been given an 8 p.m. curfew while on probation.
When the warm weather brings out the people in hordes to enjoy parks or simply commune outside, Metro police generally expect some increase in criminal activity. But mostly it’s business as usual — just hotter.
On Monday, June 6, former Metro police Field Supervising Capt. Chris Taylor took over command of Metro’s park police. Though the transition was announced the day after the shooting near the Parthenon, police said the move just happened to coincide with the shooting and had been discussed in the previous weeks. Taylor filled the position vacated in February, after the Metro Nashville Police Department decommissioned former Park Capt. Rich Foley after police received a domestic
disturbance call from his home.
As for the timing of Taylor’s appointment, he said he feels no extra pressure to address recent concerns. When there are issues, “you address them,” Taylor said, being proactive instead of just reactive.
When Metro schools break for summer, tens of thousands students (a fraction of whom are teenagers) suddenly looking for something to do with their time add themselves to rest of the population looking enjoy the outdoors. Summer months bring a “dramatic increase” in the number of people who are free to enjoy the parks, Taylor said, and June through September make up the busiest months for the park police for two basic reasons. The warmer months obviously bring people outdoors, but it also means more festivals and events held across the city, often in parks.
That’s not a problem in and of itself, Taylor said. Parks are designed as destinations for the public. His goal is to allocate his resources not as a reaction to what might have happened the day or week before but as a plan to prepare for anything and everything, he said.
While the park police resources are limited to 18 officers and five supervisors, including three officers and one supervisor certified for horse-mounted patrol, Metro police can also supplement park police, and backup is a radio call away.
After Wave Country’s first weekend — subsequently shortened by unruly crowds — Taylor said there’s a natural ebb and flow to the hot season. “One thing we’ve done for the past two weeks since that event is we’ve just had a little bigger presence and a more visual presence,” he said.
Since then, attendance numbers at the Metro-owned pool have dropped — as would be expected after the first rush of the season. Parks, community centers and pools typically see a large increase in attendance after school lets out, but as the heat builds in July and early August those numbers, particularly at outdoor venues, dwindle until late August and early September, when the sun eases off the throttle a bit.
Following the Movies in the Park season premiere, the same number of parks police were on hand for the second event. But this time, police erected temporary fencing to more clearly define the viewing area.
As well, police vehicles with blue lights flashing pushed the issue of turf with their presence.
Police also say young people aren’t any more susceptible to the influnce of youth gangs in the summer as any other time of year. Connections are made in both schools and neighborhoods. But any time there’s idle time, the temptation to join in criminal or gang activity can grow.
Lt. Gordon Howey, head of Metro’s Gang Unit, said there’s no hard evidence to suggest an increase in gang activity in the summer months — it’s more anecdotal.
“I would say that we do, when the warmer weather comes about, just because there is more potential for people to be out and about and doing things,” he said.
Howey said he and his team monitor what happens at Wave Country or during other activities that might attract gang members or activity. What happened at Wave Country didn’t involve gangs, Howey said. But the shooting near the Parthenon was preceded by gang activity (throwing gang signs, gang colors). Still, for police to say it was a “gang-related” shooting, there must be the obvious intent that one person meant to shoot another. As Howey understands it, the teen victim was not an intended target but just happened to take a bullet.
Metro police offers the Gang Resistance Education And Training program for fourth- through eighth-grade students to steer kids away from the lifestyle. The Fraternal Order of Police offers a summer camp, and there are numerous private and church-sponsored camps.
The Rev. Michael Joyner, pastor of Greater Faith Missionary Baptist Church, said part of the problem is the lack of programs to occupy youths’ minds.
“There are a few programs, but not enough,” Joyner said. “When I was a kid, you know, we had a whole lot more little-league baseball leagues and stuff like that. We don’t have that many anymore — especially in the African-American community.”
A year ago, Joyner and three other members of the clergy — along with Metro police — formed the Pastor’s Intervention Program. One of the four clergymen is on call 24/7 for police officers when there’s a crime involving a youth. The men can respond to the scene to provide counseling, intervention or mentorship.
Last summer, PIP had braced for a rough season, Joyner said. “[But] it wasn’t as bad as we thought it was going to be. And I’m praying this summer will be the same way.”