Last December, Mayor Karl Dean appointed then-interim Chief Steve Anderson to head the police department. The City Paper asked Anderson to reflect on his first year as MNPD’s big chief.
What have been your successes and challenges since last December?
Our successes are the incredible leadership that is being developed throughout the department, especially at our commander and captain level — the coming into their own, so to speak — as they are given more and more freedom to manage their precincts within the parameters of our policy and philosophy.
I think there’s a huge success in the motivation of the men and women out there on the street. I see an increase in their activity, an increase in their enthusiasm for the job. I think that can only serve to enhance not only safety in this community but also build the public confidence in what we do, which will only serve to increase our ability to serve the public.
I think the challenges we face … obviously we’re in a shrinking economy nationwide … so everybody has had to make sacrifices in terms of what we can do based on our budget. The leadership of the department has taken that as a challenge and we are carefully monitoring our spending, making sure that we spend every dollar in a way that best serves this community.
Certainly, the men and women all across the department from top to bottom who have not had a raise or a cost of living increase in some time have accepted that and not made that an issue in terms of their willingness to come to work and devote their time to their assigned task. I think it says a lot about the people that we have working here that have taken it upon themselves to recognize that nationwide this is a problem and nationwide there are layoffs and cuts in salary, and taken on the challenge of coming to work every day, doing what needs to be done without complaint that raises and scheduled increments, increase in pay, are not occurring and recognizing that Nashville is on the rise and that the finances will be there in years to come to make those available.
Moving into the new year, what is the focus of the department?
The focus will be to fine tune what we’re already doing. We have a new precinct coming online that will divide the county into seven pieces as opposed to six pieces. The new precinct will cover about 69 square miles in the Madison/Rivergate area, so there will be an increased focus there by virtue of you have a new commander and new leadership team that will focus exclusively on serving that community. Will be placing a new crime suppression team — that’s our street-level vice officers — and then three new flex teams. Those men and women will be out there on the street every day doing the things that need to be done exclusively in the Madison/Rivergate area. Likewise, the North Precinct, which covered about 188 square miles prior to Madison coming online, will shrink in geographical size, but they’ll have basically the same resources to focus on the North Nashville community. That will greatly enhance public safety on the north side of the river. All across the county will continue to sharpen our focus on the hotspots, the high crime areas, making sure that our resources are in the places that they need to be in, and that’s based on weekly, if not daily, analysis of the crime data as it becomes available to us.
The gang activity — we’ll continue to focus on that. Luckily, Nashville is not plagued with organized gang activity as some of the other major cities are, but we do recognize that it is an issue, it is a problem that we need to address. We want to make sure that it doesn’t rise to the level of other cities, and we want to keep those possible gang activities disrupted so that no organized leadership can take place. At the same time we recognize that people only fall into the gang life because of a lack of leadership, guidance or motivation from other parts of their life, so we’re working with the community, working with the clergy on developing substitute parents — so to speak — so that young men and women recognize there are things available to them, paths that their lives can take that doesn’t involve gang activity and that gang activity is a path to nowhere.
Take a step back from your position — how would you grade your performance so far?
I’d probably give myself a B on a grading scale. I think overall, things have moved forward in the way they need to. I only give myself a B, and that’s based on my gauge of the reaction of people about me. I make sure that the people that I have surrounded myself with critique me on a regular basis. I want to know what they’re thinking. Just because I’m the chief doesn’t mean that I’m always right.
So I think there’s always room for improvement — I want to leave myself room for improvement. I don’t want to come to work any day thinking that everything was the way it should be yesterday, and I need to do nothing today. … I can’t think of any big issues that I would re-address, but on the other hand I want to continue to fine-tune myself next year, and the next year after that, and maybe get a B+ next year.
You’ve been in the department a long time. … Now that you’re on top is there anything you’ve learned about the job that you maybe didn’t realize before?
No, I don’t think so. I think that I’ve had a front-row seat for this job for some time, so I somewhat understood what it entailed. … I find out that the biggest thing that I contribute is my investment in time, making sure I spend time with those in leadership positions around, making sure I spend time with the various community leaders, making sure I appear at as many community functions and neighborhood groups late at night so that they know that this department from top to bottom is interested in their neighborhood. I would like to have more time, but there is only 24 hours in the day.