Nashville Mayor John Cooper drastically moved up the planned retirement of Police Chief Steve Anderson, announcing Thursday will be Anderson’s last day on the job, following the arrest of a homeless Black man for failing to abide by the city’s mask mandate.
Anderson had been with the department for 45 years and served as police chief since 2010. Cooper announced in June that Anderson would be retiring, but would stay in the job as a national search was conducted. Multiple sources told the Tennessee Lookout that the plan was for Anderson to play a role in finding a new chief.
Calls for Anderson’s resignation reached a crescendo in recent months as Black Lives Matter protests took place in Nashville and the push for broader policing reform intensified. Anderson had declined media interview requests since news of his retirement broke on June 18.
In a tweet, Cooper said Thursday would be Anderson’s final day and deputy chief John Drake, widely viewed as a top internal candidate for the job, will serve as interim.
Cooper also said more details on the national search would be released next week.
“I’m grateful to Chief Anderson for his 45 years of service in the Metro Nashville Police Department. He is a dedicated public servant with an unwavering sense of civic duty,” Cooper said in a prepared statement.
Anderson served as chief under four mayors, at one time earning national praise for his handling of protests in the streets of Nashville following an officer-involved shooting.
But, calls for reform gained momentum following two separate reports indicating racial bias in Nashville policing. In 2016, a report by Gideon’s Army found evidence of racial bias in traffic stops by Nashville police.
Anderson criticized those studies and his defenders described him as a competent administrator whose department has often received excellent support in public polls.
Former police officer Andrew Delke, who is white, was criminally charged with the shooting death of Daniel Hambrick, who was black. Delke is still awaiting trial.
And in 2018, voters approved by a wide margin a proposal to create a community oversight board to review incidents where officers use force. Anderson and the community oversight board have been at odds over sharing of information and how that board functions.
Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the Department of Health’s board of directors passed a loose mask mandate last month. Since then, the police department handed out thousands of warnings for failing to comply with the order but didn’t write any citations until Thursday when a 61-year-old apparently homeless Black man was cited and charged with failing to comply with the public health order.
The arrest followed tremendous media coverage of large, mostly white crowds downtown chock full of people not wearing masks.
Cooper and the police department were criticized for not enforcing the mandate, but police department leadership told Metro Council members earlier this week it would start writing citations after weeks of education about the mandate.