Tiny Downtown Park Pulls Police From Other Areas
By Ben Hall
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- It may be the safest spot in Nashville.
Two police officers patrol a small downtown park, 16 hours a day, seven days a week.
But a NewsChannel 5 investigation reveals this special assignment takes officers from other parts of town.
In fact, Metro police are now reviewing their response to a 911 call and sending a directive to precinct commanders because of what we found.
It was disturbing call from a 9-year-old girl on October 25.
"We heard my momma crying," the girl said.
"Are you guys in the bedroom somewhere?" the operator asked.
"In my little brother's bedroom," the girl responded.
She was hiding with her 5-year-old brother, as her mom was attacked.
"She started hitting my mom," the girl told the operator.
It took Metro police 45 minutes to get to the girl's home.
The Hermitage Police Precinct did not have an officer available to respond.
But our investigation found they did have an officer who could have responded, except at the time the 911 call came in, the officer was sitting in an empty park in downtown Nashville, right where she was told to be.
"The Church Street Park remains a hot spot for quality of life concerns," said Metro Police spokesman Don Aaron.
Aaron admitted that the department regularly take officers from other parts of the city and moves them to tiny Church Street Park.
In fact, they're there every single day, rain or shine, from seven in the morning until 11 at night.
We watched as officers sat in fold-out chairs, even read magazines, following orders not to leave.
"We think that an officer being down there, in this unique park, is a deterrent to any adverse quality of life issues," Aaron said.
NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked, "Is there any schedule like this at any other place in the city?"
"Not at a park, but at the same time I feel that Church Street Park is unique," Aaron responded.
In 2010, police and the mayor received complaints about homeless people downtown.
One woman wrote the mayor that homeless people in the park prevented her from selling her two-story penthouse condo.
Shortly after, police ordered every precinct to send members of its flex team, which is supposed to focus on crime hotspots, to the downtown area.
NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked, "Were people in Hermitage less safe that night because of the Church Street Park assignment?"
"I don't think so -- there were different officers in Hermitage to respond to calls," Aaron said.
But 15 minutes after the 9-year-old girl called 911, her mother called again, begging for help.
"I'm hurting really bad," she told the operator.
"Okay," the operator said. "We are getting them coming to you. OK, are you bleeding or anything?"
"I don't know," the mother answered.
Firefighters arrived on the scene a short time later, but they had to wait outside because no police were there. It was too dangerous for them to go inside without officers.
"That's a priority call," said Metro Council member Robert Duvall. "That's a call that needs to be responded to at once."
Duvall represents part of Hermitage area.
He was shocked when we showed him the schedule for patrolling the park.
"That is taking them away from my neighborhoods, which is keeping our neighborhoods from being as safe as they could be," Duvall said.
He wanted to see for himself, so he walked up to two officers who were sitting in chairs in the park one afternoon.
The officers told him they were from South Precinct, located 20 minutes away, and they were part of a flex team that usually focuses on burglaries.
"I mean it's great duty if you want to sit here and do nothing, but I know you guys are not that way," Duvall said to them.
NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked Don Aaron whether other parts of Nashville suffer because of the assignment.
"The downtown area is Nashville's core," he insisted. "So, as downtown goes, essentially does the rest of the city."
But police admit the call from the nine year old girl on Burning Tree Drive was mishandled.
"The response time to that Burning Tree Drive call was not acceptable," Aaron said.
One of the officers in the park that night was not a flex officer, but a patrol officer who would have normally answered radio calls.
"All of the precinct commanders have been directed firmly, not to use patrol officers," Aaron said.
When officers finally arrived that night in Hermitage, they found the children safe and walked the terrified mom to an ambulance.
Despite what happened, the Church Street policy stands.
Officers will continue to keep watch over what may be the safest 12,000 square feet in Nashville.