NASHVILLE (WSMV) - A new study on Nashville traffic stops finds they are not effective on fighting crime. It also pointed to racial disparities in traffic stops conducted by Metro Police.

The report was requested by former Mayor Megan Barry's office to "help develop strategies to address racial disparities and improve community-police relations..." It was done by The Policing Project, an organization with ties to New York University School of Law and based in New York City.

The report found overall that traffic stops have dropped in Nashville, but there are racial disparities in the stops in particular those for non-moving violations such as broken taillights and expired tags.

The report also found that traffic stops don't reduce crime. This was part of their recommendation for the police department.

The Policing Project recommends that MNPD:

  • Reduce the number of traffic stops
  • Acknowledge black residents have been disproportionately affected by MNPD's stop practices
  • Monitor racial disparities on an ongoing basis
  • Redeploy officer resources toward more effective crime-fighting tools
  • Consider adoping a Neighborhood Policing strategy
  • Post its department policies online
  • Conduct a review of certain key policies such as use of force
  • Conduct a review of trainign around use of force, traffic stops, and procedural justice
  • Adopt a body camera policy with attention to transparency regarding the release of footage.
  • Engage in a public process of strategic planning around public safety, bringing together community voices and MNPD officials.

The group said that Metro Police had been very forthcoming throughout the process and that the department said they target crime, not race.

Metro Police contends that officers go where the crime is, and that high-crime neighborhoods tend to have larger-minority populations.

Metro Police Chief Steve Anderson released a statement regarding the findings:

          I very much appreciate the work of Professor Friedman and his team from the Policing Project, including the staff from the Stanford Computational Policy Lab, in the thorough analysis of Nashville’s vehicle stops.

          The MNPD has consistently acknowledged for years that black drivers have been stopped at a higher rate than white drivers relative to the respective black and white driving age populations.  Officer deployment, that is assigning larger numbers of MNPD officers in high crime areas and crime hotspots, is certainly a factor in the disparity.  And, as today’s report observes, “Disparity… is not necessarily evidence of discrimination.” 

          Weekly data-driven analyses inform our eight precinct commanders where and when crime is occurring, along with where and when citizens are calling for MNPD assistance.  Based on these analyses, this police department prioritizes and assigns our finite resources to areas of need, regardless of racial demographics or socio-economic status.  So long as crime victimizes citizens and families in some of our city’s most vulnerable areas--communities most often in transition and impacted by gentrification, housing issues or lack of economic development--the police will necessarily be staffed in these areas with the primary goal of reducing victimization.

Today’s report deals significantly with vehicle stops for non-moving violations.   As noted in the Stanford Appendix at page 4, “These maps (maps of population, non-moving violation stops and reported crime) thus provide some indication that the racial disparities in non-moving violation stops are at least partly attributable to such stops being made in high-crime areas—which, in Nashville, tend to be predominantly black.”  While the language in today’s report is somewhat technical in parts with mathematical formulas, the Stanford staff also concluded, “we do not find statistically significant evidence that predominantly white and predominantly black zones are differentially policed after adjusting for reported crime” (Stanford Appendix page 5).

Nevertheless, I appreciate the finding of the researchers that vehicle stops for non-moving equipment violations and the police visibility related to them do not appear to be having a significant impact on short-term or long-term crime trends.  Just as important, is the concern for trust with the police department by citizens in areas where these stops most often occur.  Just as Nashville continues to evolve, so must our police department’s strategies and partnership efforts to best serve all of our communities.  While incidents of major crime in Nashville have fallen from a high of 59,000 in 1997 to a modern time low of 31,000 in 2014 (during a period in which Nashville’s population grew by 76,000 persons), it is true that we reached a relative plateau and that crime has begun to inch up since 2014.

While our police officers cannot turn a blind eye to all non-moving equipment and registration violations, we can and will refocus and rededicate ourselves to strengthening community partnerships and engaging neighborhood residents in public safety initiatives that do not make vehicle stops a priority, unless a particular neighborhood is plagued by moving traffic violators and is in need of enforcement.  In fact, that refocused community partnership effort is already underway with programs in the Cayce neighborhood of East Nashville, the Napier-Sudekum neighborhood just south of downtown, the 40th Avenue North/Clifton Avenue area of West Nashville, and the Buena Vista neighborhood in Bordeaux.  The reports from these initiatives thus far are very promising and we will look to expand them by retooling our strategies that help families and police officers meaningfully engage in safety and quality of life.  We are committed to working with Mayor Briley’s office and the Community Oversight Board to strategically position Nashville with an evolving model community policing program. 

We will closely review the recommendations presented by The Policing Project, some of which have already been implemented (placing the department’s policy manual on-line and consistently reviewing policies such as use of force and searches to ensure that they are consistent with policing’s best practices).

The ultimate goal of the MNPD and its community partners through refocused strategies remains the reduction of overall victimization, which, in Nashville, greatly and disproportionately impacts communities of color.  For 2018, through October 31st, victims of major crime in the Buena Vista area have been 94% black, in the 40th & Clifton area 84.5% black, in the Cayce neighborhood 71.4% black and the Napier-Sudekum area 82.5% black.

We all realize that challenges are ahead of us as we work to ensure the safety of a growing and changing Nashville.  This police department is committed to meeting those challenges in full partnership with the diverse communities we serve.

The Fraternal Order of Police also released a statement, saying that they have "for years, expressed its concerns regarding the level of focus placed on traffic stops within the MNPD." They also said they delivered their own survey to Mayor Briley that outlined the concerns and the survey "was completely ignored by city administrators."

The FOP says the lack of adequate manpower on the force is to blame.

"It is our hope, now that an expensive study has delivered similar results, that Mayor David Briley will work proactively to ensure Nashville can do better when addressing the concerns of the law enforcement professionals of this city."

Here's the full statement from the Fraternal Order of Police:

Click here to read the full report from The Policing Project.

Copyright 2018 WSMV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.

WSMV Digital Content Producer

Joey is an award-winning Digital Content Producer who joined WSMV in September 2018.


Rebecca Cardenas is a Murrow-award winning journalist who joined News4 as a reporter in September 2017. She currently covers the court systems in Middle Tennessee.


Kim St. Onge joined the News4 team as a reporter in January 2017.

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