This is a summary of Gov. Bill Lee’s press conference from Sept. 10. Topics included police reforms, controversies surrounding Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn and state procurements.
Today’s announcement about police issues is a first step. This can be a national template. Defunding is not the right approach. We support law enforcement. We chose what we believe is a substantive approach showing our criminal justice system is not afraid to take a hard look at themselves.
Three Stars of Tennessee today recognized police who died or were badly injured in the line of duty.
Hodgen Mainda, commissioner of Commerce & Insurance:
Our task force reviewed training. On initial academy training, they already do diversity, de-escalation and use of force. Our goal was to include: increase the minimum training hours from 400 to 488; training at least 16 hours like duty to intervene, public assembly, use of force and positive interaction with the community. We are updating annual training: currently required 40 hours with 11 set aside for firearms, vehicles, child sex abuse and mental health; for next three years, we will require 10 hours on de-escalation and duty to intervene, officer wellness, assembly and community interaction, and community immersion (positive non-enforcement with cross-cultural interaction).
David Rausch, TBI:
Every agency was told to review policies. We had a collaborative team. We looked at national and state standards, including the consensus policy on use of force from the international chiefs of police agency. We got feedback from community leaders. The Tennessee Association of the Chiefs of Police trained members on this.
There will be federal guidelines on these topics and our standards will meet or exceed those.
Jeff Long, Homeland Security commissioner:
This is the first time in my 47-year career there is a statewide effort for a standard guiding policy for all agencies in the state. I asked the THP and Homeland Security to review their use of force policy. Their policies go above and beyond the state and national standards.
On National Decertification Index: Done by training academies for licensed revocation based on an action that may be misconduct or their agency’s report. They cast a bad light on our profession. Each critical policy violation by an officer can do lasting damage. The idea that problem officers are still on the job is concerning. The index will be available to every agency and each department leader will certify why an officer left.
Deborah Faulkner, City of Franklin police chief:
I represent all chiefs in Tennessee and officers. I serve on the POST commission. State chiefs reviewed policies. The committee had members from police agencies. Ninety percent of agencies have successfully reviewed and updated their policies; that is a big deal. We will offer training on the topics mentioned previously.
Floyd Bonner, Shelby County sheriff:
Eighty percent of sheriffs attested to these policies. As sheriff of the largest sheriff’s office in the state, I found these useful.
Q: Regarding audio records by Bob Woodward on President Donald Trump saying the coronavirus was deadly and contagious and a threat to kids and he wanted to play it down. Trump told the public the virus was under control, etc. This is the de facto leader of your political party. How do you reconcile this dishonesty; do you feel betrayed?
Lee: I can only speak to our approach in our state. I can speak to the relationship with federal agencies. We have approached this will all due seriousness.
Q: The president said he downplayed a pandemic that has killed 190,000 Americans as well as Tennesseans. You don’t want to talk about that?
Lee: We talk about that every day.
Q: What do you want to see come from these police changes?
Lee: We want to see an ongoing committed effort to see law enforcement protects and serves the way they should so we do not have instances like around the country.
Q: Rausch said the state standards will meet or exceed the DOJ. Have you worked with them?
Rausch: I work on the president’s commission on law enforcement, which is led by the DOJ. Many of these conversations have taken place there. We work with the U.S. attorney general’s office on certifying agencies in the nation on this topic.
Q: The president admitted he downplayed this. Did that affect how you responded?
Lee: We responded with all seriousness to the pandemic. We understand this is a global pandemic.
Q: You went to the White House. Did you have insight the virus was worse?
Lee: We watched what was happening around the world. Our goal was to mitigate the spread.
Q: A Republican mentioned a no-confidence vote on the education commissioner. Do you have confidence in her?
Lee: Opening schools in the midst of a pandemic was one of the greatest challenges. We did it well and to protect kids and teachers. Knowing kids are in the class is the best thing. I am pleased with where we are in opening and that is her No. 1 job.
Q: Would a no confidence vote carry any weight with you?
Lee: I am pleased with her.
Q: Implicit bias and blacks and Hispanics are arrested more.
Lee: When we address policies on human dignity, that includes every Tennessean. Community interaction and cross-cultural training.
Q: If an officer interacts with a minority, he may have a prejudice.
Lee: That is cross-cultural interaction training.
Mainda: Our task force was diverse. We had discussion on officer wellness which will include implicit bias.
Q to Mainda: Which community leaders were included?
Mainda: The task force is on our website at Commerce & Insurance and has the list.
Q: Maury County Mayor Andy Ogles called for the replacement of Schwinn for not representing state values.
Lee: Our DOE is doing tremendous work to make sure kids’ needs are met in school and with nutrition and mental health.
Q: Mask mandates are expiring in counties. Are you concerned?
Lee: Our approach has been effective. We see mitigation efforts working. Giving local authority has led to more compliance. Every Tennessean should wear a mask when they cannot distance.
Q: With cases rising in rural counties, are you encouraging them to mandate masks?
Lee: We are working with them on strategies. The spread in rural counties has plateaued mostly.
Q: Why use CARES money to fund police scholarships because CARES is for the virus.
Lee: The feds gave us flexibility. Police have responded to the virus.
Q: Did you look at other ways to fund this?
Lee: Yes. CARES is to be used for short-term efforts.
Q: With 90 percent of agencies looking at this…did any change their policies?
Homeland Security: My department did.
Q on contracting: Your administration is using emergency no-bid spending. Will that continue indefinitely?
Lee: No. Our procurements during the pandemic have been unusual. There was a global supply challenge and the traditional model takes a lot of time and people were dying. That will continue during the state of emergency.
Q: One governor has said it is time to get back to normal on procurements.
Lee: We continue to lose lives in Tennessee and continue to have issues on procurement.
Q: Did you or anyone else have a prior relationship with the company issuing the sock masks?
Lee: I am not aware of any.
Lee was asked a series of additional questions on procurement, a lawmaker and the governor’s knowledge of these issues. Lee said he did not know any details.
Q: This day had the second highest number of deaths with the virus.
Lee: This means we have a serious pandemic we need to be serious about. Death rates lag. We believe that is true. As counts go down, we believe the death rate will go down.
Following is a press release by the governor’s office about police issues:
Lee announced recommendations from the State’s Law Enforcement Reform Partnership to strengthen policing policies, improve information sharing around disciplinary actions and increase officer training. In addition to enhanced policies, a total of $300,000 in CARES Act funding will be used for 90 additional cadet scholarships for the Tennessee Law Enforcement Training Academy.
“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,” said Lee. “I am confident the outcomes of this partnership will help ensure our law enforcement officials are effectively protecting communities across the state while serving every Tennessean with dignity and respect.”
Lee announced the Law Enforcement Reform Partnership on July 2 and charged them with providing recommendations by early September. Partnership members represent a diverse group of individuals and organizations across all three Grand Divisions, and include members of the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security, Tennessee Highway Patrol, Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance, Tennessee Association of Chiefs of Police, Tennessee Sheriffs’ Association, state legislators and community leaders.
An advisory council will continue to work to ensure that Tennessee’s law enforcement agencies receive the best training and standards to respond to the evolving needs of officers and the communities they serve.
The Partnership produced sample policies consistent with national standards and distributed them to all local agency heads via the Tennessee Sheriffs’ Association and Tennessee Association of Chiefs of Police. Additionally, a Use of Force policy checklist was created for agencies to review existing policies and to serve as a resource for agencies that may or may not have existing policies.
“This collaborative, transparent initiative ensures all agencies in Tennessee will have addressed the most critical aspects of the proper and lawful application of force and the importance of protective intervention to meet the expectations of the public we serve and are aligned with pending federal guidelines,” said Tennessee Bureau of Investigation Director David Rausch.
Almost 90% of Tennessee law enforcement agencies have reviewed their policies and completed the online checklist attestation and the Tennessee Association of Chiefs of Police and Tennessee Sheriffs’ Association will continue to support agencies in reviewing their policies.
The Peace Officers Standards & Training (POST) Commission will increase accessibility to the National Decertification Index (NDI) for all law enforcement agencies in Tennessee. The (NDI) is a national registry that tracks officers who have lost licenses or certificates due to misconduct.
“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 & Homeland Security Commissioner Jeff Long.
Tennessee’s Notice of Separation form will be expanded to require a more comprehensive and detailed explanation for reasons of departure including disciplinary actions and procedures. The form will require agency heads to formally attest to the form’s contents and will be in use by all Tennessee law enforcement agencies by Oct. 1.
The Tennessee Law Enforcement Training Academy, under the direction of the Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance, will now require enhanced curriculum and annual in-service training including specific training topics for law enforcement officials across the state.
“Tennessee is committed to having the best law enforcement officers in the nation. Through these expanded and enhanced training updates – Tennessee law enforcement officers will continue to receive the best training and standards as we respond to the evolving needs of law enforcement and our communities,” said Commerce & Insurance Commissioner Hodgen Mainda. “I join Governor Lee in his continued commitment to developing best practices for law enforcement agencies and, above all, protecting human life.”
- Increasing the minimum training hours from 400 to 488 hours;
- Updating curriculums to require a minimum of 16 course hours designed for relevant policing concepts such as proper use of force and emphasizing positive community and officer interactions
Annual in-service training updates, including a total of ten hours dedicated to the following topics:
- De-Escalation Techniques and Duty to Intervene
- Officer Wellness
- Public Assembly and Community Interaction
- Designated Community Immersion