The General Assembly has passed a requirement that the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation start including more demographic information in yearly state crime reports that the agency presents to lawmakers and law enforcement.
Sponsored by Senate Minority Leader Lee Harris, D-Memphis, the bill would mandate the TBI report percentage breakdowns of suspects, crime victims and convicted offenders “based on race, gender, age, nationality, and any other appropriate demographic.”
The TBI’s report is a compilation of data from state, county, and municipal law enforcement and correctional agencies, as well as courts.
Harris told upper-chamber lawmakers Wednesday that he wants to build on “a data-driven approach to law enforcement,” a process which has “resulted in large reductions in crime in big cities.” This includes Memphis, which Harris added has “credited a 31 percent decrease in the crime rate between 2006 and 2010” as a result of using data to inform policies.
During criminal justice reform hearings held by the Senate Judiciary Committee last summer, several criminal justice policy experts testified on the need for better crime data to help inform data-driven policies.
The House version passed Monday on a consent calendar, 94-0.
But the legislation did hit some resistance in the upper chamber Wednesday, where some of Tennessee’s senators fretted about issues that might arise from collecting crime data specifying racial and ethnic demographics, including the fear this would contribute to racial profiling.
Harris explained that while he is generally “loathe” to base policy “on race,” his bill is based on “a variety of demographic categories that may be helpful to law enforcement.”
Lawmakers also voiced concern the additional reporting requirements would cost law enforcement time and money in cases when the data isn’t already being produced.
Harris said the TBI already collects the information and was neutral on the legislation. He added there was no fiscal note indicating that any additional state or local budget resources would be necessary for implementation.
The Senate ultimately approved the measure 23-4. Six lawmakers refused to vote one way or another. The Senate’s three freshman Democrats joined a majority of Republicans in voting to approve the measure.
Voting against the measure were Nashville Democrat Thelma Harper and Republicans Todd Gardenhire of Chattanooga, Randy McNally of Oak Ridge and Frank Niceley of Strawberry Plains.
Members who refused to participate in the vote were Republican Sens. Paul Bailey of Sparta, Mike Bell of Riceville, Rusty Crowe of Johnson City, Joey Hensley of Hohenwald and Jim Tracy of Shelbyville, as well as Memphis Democrat Reginald Tate.
The measure is headed next to Gov. Bill Haslam’s desk for his signature.
Last year, Haslam announced a Sentencing and Recidivism Task Force, to study Tennessee’s criminal justice system with the intent of addressing the Volunteer State’s prison overpopulation problems.
Alex Harris can be contacted at Alex@TNReport.com.