KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee signed a bill into law Wednesday that will abolish community police oversight boards in the state in favor of advisory boards similar to the one already in place in Knoxville.
The law, which goes into effect July 1, authorizes municipalities to create police advisory and review committees, like Knoxville’s Police Advisory Review Committee, in place of the community oversight boards.
These committees will only allow the mayor-appointed members to refer complaints to law enforcement internal affairs units rather than allowing the board to independently investigate the complaints.
Director of Community Safety for the City of Knoxville and former PARC director LaKenya Middlebrook said Knoxville’s PARC already follows the rules outlined in the new law, so it will remain unchanged.
“I think the main thing for folks in Knoxville to be aware of and to remain focused on is the fact that our police advisory review committee will continue to operate and function and exist in our community as it has since 1998,” Middlebrook said.
Middlebrook said other communities may look to PARC to model their committees after the one here in Knoxville.
“We are happy to support other communities who are exploring how to develop out these boards. We’ve done that in the past as communities have looked to develop oversight boards,” Middlebrook said. “PARC is a place that they have reached out to, but again I think it’s very important for communities to have a voice in how they’re policed.”
The Knoxville Police Department signed an operating agreement with PARC in December, and following Gov. Lee signing the law, Chief Paul Noel said in a statement, “We appreciate the strong working relationship that we share with the Police Advisory & Review Committee. That relationship and PARC’s level of access was recently expanded with the first-ever written agreement between our two departments.”
We welcome the additional layer of accountability and transparency that PARC provides to the community and will continue to work with PARC as we strive to establish 21st century, nationwide best practices at the Knoxville Police Department.”
Middlebrook hopes other cities will follow in Knoxville’s footsteps when it comes to having community input on policing.
“It’s an important tool because policing directly impacts, in an extensive way, the community that it serves and it’s important for members of that community to know that they have an avenue to raise concerns, to have input in how their communities are policed. She said. “It’s really really difficult to have effective policing if we don’t have strong community input.”