‘De-escalation and transparency’: Nashville Police Chief John Drake shares core values leading department

Now more than two years as Metro Nashville's top cop, Metro Police Chief John Drake takes about the key themes of his department under his leadership.
Published: Feb. 16, 2023 at 5:48 PM CST|Updated: Feb. 16, 2023 at 8:02 PM CST
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WSMV) - At the Metro Police Training Academy in North Nashville, the department’s newest class of recruits gets a warm welcome and a word of encouragement from Chief John Drake.

“We are 46 strong, which is great,” Drake said. “We need you out there. We’re 200 officers short.”

It’s a shortage the Nashville native is hoping to fill with more women and minorities.

“Women want to see women in law enforcement; minorities want to see monitories in law enforcement,” Drake said. “It makes you feel empowered and makes you want to be a part of it.”

So what is it?

Drake says his vision for MNPD’s future places a priority on people, including de-escalation tactics.

“I’ve always said I’d rather have a 30-minute conversation than a 30-second fight any day,” said the 58-year-old Nashville native, who marked two years in November as top commander of the force he’s served his entire career.

He says they’ll also be utilizing new Airbus helicopters with infrared technology to help rescue people from floods and tall buildings, locate the missing, and decrease the number of high-speed chases.

“I don’t like pursuits, they’re too dangerous,” Drake explained. “And so we’ll put aviation up. They’ll follow the vehicles, and we’ll find a place to do a take down, take that person down safely.”

Drake calls his conviction “sanctity of life,” and explained how he wants de-escalation and transparency to be hallmarks of his leadership.

“I’m a proponent of video,” Drake continued. “I mean we have body-worn camera. I like it if people have ring video. One, it holds officers accountable. We want to make sure people know that our people are good.”

“We put our message out there immediately because I want people to know what’s going on,” Drake added. “I don’t want to be like some places hold it for weeks and months at a time. It draws anger; it draws a lot of undue speculation.”

Drake is quick to call out Nashville’s issues. He says the number of stolen guns has played a role in Nashville’s record-high homicide rate, and that there should be consequences for repeat offenders who don’t lock up their guns.

“The second time you get your gun stolen, you can’t buy another gun because you’re contributing to the problem,” Drake said.

He says the city also has a speeding problem.

“We had a young lady that was stopped at 108 miles per hour going to a spin class,” Drake said incredulously. “Late for a spin class. We’ve got to get people to slow down. 108!”

So, traffic stops and writing tickets will continue, he says, but fewer of them.

Numbers from MNPD show last year officers wrote 15,000 fewer citations than the year before. And the total number of traffic stops -- more than 200,000 in 2018 -- was down to 25,000 in 2022.

MNPD provided this data to WSMV4.
MNPD provided this data to WSMV4.(MNPD)

The father and grandfather knows he has his critics, like those against license plate readers (LPR’s).

He admits their resistance hurts.

“It’s just people that are adversary to policing who won’t hear the truth,” Drake explained. “People that are against LPR’s, saying that we want to profile Black and brown people; it couldn’t be the further from the truth.”

A license plate reader just picks up a license plate. It doesn’t profile a person, Drake said. “But to hear those kind of things, it’s kind of hurtful sometimes,” Drake added.

Drake’s approach to lowering the crime rate is people-focused too. The department hopes to launch community advisory groups in every district, where residents are paired with a council member to meet regularly as one team.

“Say if you lived in this area, you’ll be at those meetings, saying, ‘This is my area. This is what’s going on. Let’s problem solve together.’”