Metro Police Chief Ronal Serpas today told the Downtown Kiwanis Club, "In the next two weeks, there's going to be an effort that's going to come out of a building on Pennsylvania Avenue in D.C. where they want to talk to three police departments in America about what it takes to use accountability to make a difference. It just so happens our police department is one of the three."
The department Chief Serpas has led for the past six years has reduced crime every year of the six. Nashville tops the list of the six "best practices" police departments in the country. Metro's Police Department is also national model to train other professional police departments.
The chief had harsh words for the Tennessee General Assembly. "I would hope (the legislature) would focus as much attention on keeping criminals behind bars as letting people go in bars with guns," he said about the possibility prison terms may be reduced to help balance the state budget.
Serpas complained the legislature gives little attention to public safety though the state constitution clearly states the government is responsible for ensuring the "peace, safety and happiness of the people."
"Do you know there was a summer study session this year because the legislature wants to pass a law to allow you to take a gun in the workplace," he said. "Now you can't take a gun (into) the legislature but they want (them) in bars, they want it in parks, they want it where people are playing baseball with kids and all that stuff." He complained there has never been a summer study on public safety issues though this year there was one on whether wine should be sold in grocery stores.
Tongue-in-cheek the chief joked, "I take my hat off to the (National Rifle Association). "They represent a very small percentage of the population and look how much of the political debate they drive."
Serpas asserted that the "legislature (is) selling ... the fear of crime. .... 'Don't go in O'Charley's without a gun because you are going to get killed.' I thought that was some of the most reprehensible politics I have ever seen in my life. Makes you so in fear of crime you think you need a gun at O'Charley's!"
He praised former House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh, "Y'all don't know this but every year my first four years (as chief, Speaker Naifeh) would have me come up (to the legislature) and help him turn back these (gun) statutes." Naifeh, a Democrat, lost his office after Republicans gained a majority this past session.
"The thing that's the most impressive to me was that (Gov. Phil Bredesen) vetoed (the guns in bars) bill," Serpas said. "Many of the law enforcement officers in this state and this community stood with the governor, not because he asked us to. He didn't say, 'Hey, I need to sprinkle some cops around here.'"
"We all stood with (the governor) because we wanted to," Chief Serpas told the Kiwanians. "You know what was the first thing the (Tennessee Rifle Association) did after they saw that? They sent emails around their lists saying 'Help us identify these cops (who) had the audacity to stand against us so we can get them in trouble.' That's what you're up against here."
The guns-in-bars bill was recently overturned in court (on grounds) it was unconstitutionally vague. According to Chief Serpas legislative proponents have threatened, "'Oh, we're just going to change the law and make it work.'"
He asked, "What about the 80 percent of the people (MTSU surveys show) don't want it? Don't they have a voice? So, yeah, I'm very passionate about (guns-in-bars)."
The chief called gun bill rhetoric "just bad public policy based on emotion not on facts. Public policy should be based on facts. .... I've investigated quite a few crimes. Everybody in this room could have a gun. Without being over dramatic, completely fact-based and experience-based, all of you could have oozies (and) if I decided to shoot (someone) you couldn't stop me before I did it.You couldn't. It happens that fast."