NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Nashville Interim Police Chief John Drake has emerged from a national search to become the permanent leader of the growing city’s police force, Mayor John Cooper announced Monday.
Drake, Nashville’s second Black police chief, won the job after filling the role in the interim since August. He replaced former Police Chief Steve Anderson, who retired after calls to resign from some metro council members and others in the community amid the nationwide cry for policing changes after George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis police custody.
A 56-year-old Nashville native, Drake has been with the city’s police force for more than three decades. At a virtual news conference Monday, he promised that change is coming. He said that would include continued efforts to improve community engagement and recruit more diverse candidates.
In a department with just over 1,400 sworn employees, excluding trainees, 1,160 are white, including 1,043 men and 117 women; 158 are Black, with 135 men and 23 women; and 95 are other races, including 84 men and 11 women, according to department spokesperson Don Aaron.
“Most assuredly, these are historically critical and some have even said consequential times,” Drake said. “Never did I think as a child growing up on North 9th St. in East Nashville that one day I would be a police officer, much less selected in 2020 to lead the Metro Nashville Police Department.”
Drake criticized the results of some previous proactive policing efforts in Nashville. He said his focus is on more precisely pursuing “problem people in problem areas” and connecting people to services, saying officers “can’t arrest our way out of this.”
“They went out. They saturated neighborhoods. They pulled over any and everybody in a effort of reducing crime,” Drake said. “But what really happened is they pulled over residents in Nashville who were trying to go to work, trying to get home to their kids, trying to get to school, etcetera.”
The mayor chose Drake over four other finalists from outside of Nashville: Troy Gay, the Austin, Texas, police department chief of staff; Darryl McSwain, chief of the Maryland-National Capital Park Police; Larry Scirotto, former assistant chief of professional standards with the Pittsburgh Police Department; and Kristen Ziman, chief of the Aurora, Illinois, police department.
Drake’s selection drew praise from the local police union, the Nashville Fraternal Order of Police, which said in a statement that Drake has the “crucial knowledge needed to effectively lead this police department into the future.”
And for those in the community who wanted an outsider to retool the department, Cooper countered that Drake was the best candidate and “no training is required, no introduction is required.”
“Because he’s your own, doesn’t mean that he’s not fantastic,” Cooper said.
Anderson, who is white, spent 45 years on the force, and his decade as chief included two highly scrutinized deadly shootings by white officers of Black men in 2017 and 2018, the more recent of which has led to the officer facing a first-degree murder charge.
Critics also said Anderson wasn’t sufficiently cooperating with a new community oversight board of police that Nashville voters created after the 2018 shooting.
Anderson also drew some praise when officers handed out hot chocolate during the 2014 protests in Nashville after the fatal police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. Anderson’s salary was $236,354 a year.
Drake said police have a “renewed relationship” with the community oversight board, adding that a new memorandum of understanding with the panel is close to being signed.
Additionally, Drake will be at the helm while investigations continue to play out into sexual harassment allegations within the department, including officers being investigated by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.
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