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Nashville Police Attempt to Seize Control of Private Event Security and Get Sued

Taxpayers are increasingly on the hook for millions in overtime, pension costs.

Hockey in NashvilleSteve Roberts/Cal Sport Media/Cal Sport Media/NewscomNashville police are trying to push private security firms out of events coverage, using taxpayer dollars and government authority to undercut the competition and dominate the market, according to a lawsuit three companies have filed against the metropolitan government.

Nashville is famous for its public events, from country music concerts to the pro hockey playoff game held there last night. And private firms there have been providing security services for years. But now the police department is taking over security for these events, setting rules and prices that make it next to impossible for private firms to compete. The end result is not just financial harm to the businesses; police officers are banking huge amounts of overtime for event coverage and charging it to taxpayers. Then the police department asks Nashville's metropolitan government for millions more in funding to cover these costs.

Here's a simple example. Organizers of the city's annual gay pride event previously paid a private security firm $20,000 to keep watch over it. In 2017, when police took over the event, they logged $52,000 in overtime costs, according to Nashville records. This was money that Nashville, not the gay pride organizers, paid.

That firm—Comprehensive Security Inc.—is one of the plaintiffs of this lawsuit. The suit, filed in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee, accuses the metropolitan government of Nashville and Davidson County of violating federal antitrust laws to create a monopoly for local cops to completely control the market. The plaintiffs are asking for an injunction to stop the Nashville police's behavior.

Gary Blackburn, the attorney representing the firms, alleges that the police department demanded that the companies tell them how much they were paying their guards for events. Then the police dropped their prices to undercut the private competition, providing their services at "a loss" and asking the city for more money to make up for it.

Then, at the start of April, the police implemented a new rule forbidding officers from working events for private security firms entirely. Blackburn explains that the law there requires using guards who have full police training to direct traffic around events. These private firms would sometimes pay off-duty Nashville metro officers for this role, and this change in policy seriously curtails the firms' ability to contract for these jobs. The lawsuit also alleges that Nashville police officials deliberately add loads of red tape when private security firms apply for approval to cover special events. But if customers contract directly with the Nashville police, it's a breeze.

"It is an unprincipled takeover of what had been handled extremely well at no expense to the taxpayers," Blackburn tells Reason.

An investigation by The Tennessean shows the fiscal consequences. Annual overtime costs have ballooned from $6.1 million to $9.1 million in just three years, a rate of increase dramatically higher than the city's 11 percent hike in tourism revenue. The Tennessean calculates the rise is almost entirely due to special event coverage. The police chief has asked for a funding increase of more than $2 million for next fiscal year. At the same time, Nashville is expecting a potential $25 million shortfall next year due to a drop in property tax collections. They're talking about a possible hiring freeze.

The overall impact of these overtime costs extends even further than some citizens may realize. The Tennessean notes that several officers are bringing home more than $40,000 annually just from overtime pay. This dramatically increases the salary calculations that determine their pensions. All this overtime doesn't just consume more of the current fiscal year's budget; it dramatically increases the financial commitment for Nashville's taxpayers when these officers retire.

"A whole lot of older police officers can substantially increase their pensions," Blackburn notes. When the police took over security for Ascend Amphitheater, a prominent music venue in Nashville, it doubled the size of security staff from four to eight—"some of whom sat in patrol cars performing no apparent service," according to the lawsuit.

The city and the police department aren't currently commenting on the lawsuit, but a spokesman for the police department insisted in March that the changes were needed as a result of "violence and terror attacks around the world and in the U.S."

Blackburn denies that this takeover is necessary for public safety, and he notes that these firms were hiring the same officers to perform the same functions until Nashville banned them and forced the officers to run overtime through the city.

"I think a private business should be able to operate without being run out of business by a government entity," Blackburn says. "It's not a liberal or a conservative issue—it's a common sense issue."

Photo Credit: Steve Roberts/Cal Sport Media/Cal Sport Media/Newscom

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  • creech||

    "A whole lot of older police officers can substantially increase their pensions,"

    Bingo!

  • Libertymike||

    If a company wants better protection and security, it would be asinine to contract with the police.

  • Scarecrow Repair & Chippering||

    Nice event you have planned there. Shame if something were to prevent it from being permitted.

  • Juice||

    I was about to ask if anti-trust laws applied here, but obviously they don't apply to actual monopolies.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    The alt-text is yet another slander against ice hockey.

  • Citizen X - #6||

    Truth is an absolute defense to charges of slander, homie.

  • Longtobefree||

    It used to be - - - - - - - -

  • Tony||

    I've been to one hockey game in my adult life, and the violence was so choreographed it might as well have been an avant-garde ballet.

  • SusanM||

    Obviously, you've never been to a Flyers game

  • Shirley Knott||

    It's WWE on ice, with worse teeth and lower IQs. Both audience and 'players'.

  • Gilbert Martin||

    If you want to see some real violence , watch an Isle of Man motorcycle race.

  • Karl Hungus||

    If you want to see some real violence , watch an Isle of Man motorcycle race.

    This. Easily the most deadly motor sport in the world. People die every single year.

  • Juice||

    Ironically (?) the one hockey game I've been to in my life was in Nashville.

  • Lowdog||

    Since you've been to one hockey game in your life, I'm certain you're an expert on the sport.

  • Migrant Log Chipper||

    You wouldn't know violence if it came up and hit you over the head with a goalie stick. Let's get you on skates, you fucking pussy and I'll be happy to choreograph a body check for you. Where would we ever find any morons if you weren't around, Toejam??

  • Chipper Morning Baculum||

    This is a good opportunity for me to express my disdain for penguins.

  • sparkstable||

    Pens gonna win this in 6 as soon as the zebras pull their heads out of their backsides (should have been 2-2 with 10 to go in the 3rd if the refs had eyes that worked worth a damn). No need to be a hater.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    As a Pens season ticket holder, I will admit it's nice to have the tables turned and tell everyone who will listen that Pittsburgh lost a game because of the officiating. I don't actually believe that, but I hear from Caps/Flyers/Preds fans so often I just wanted to see if a loss is easier to take if you offload the blame.

  • chemjeff radical individualist||

    Gary Blackburn

    huh. wonder if he's related to Marsha Blackburn

  • Rhywun||

    "It's not a liberal or a conservative issue—it's a common sense issue."

    Perusing a list of Nashville mayors, one might conclude it's a Democrat issue.

  • BYODB||


    "I think a private business should be able to operate without being run out of business by a government entity," Blackburn says. "It's not a liberal or a conservative issue—it's a common sense issue."


    This guy doesn't get out much, does he?

  • Jerryskids||

    a spokesman for the police department insisted in March that the changes were needed as a result of "violence and terror attacks around the world and in the U.S."

    What a rube! You gotta throw in the opioid crisis, sex trafficking and Tide pods if you want to stay current on your existential threats the Thin Blue Line defends us from.

  • Marcus Aurelius||

    Sounds like the police chief should be run out of town on a rail. Seems like this is the kind of thing the investigative journalists should have been covering instead of the normal dross at 6 and 11.

  • sparkstable||

    Liberal conundrum... do I love government or hate monopolies and greed? Got to give it to them, though... they find a way to walk that line that screws us twice over. I've always called them evil, but not always called them dumb.

  • Christophe||

    This is evil in all the possible ways:

    - It wastes taxpayer dollars on subsidizing event security.
    - It does so in a way that's even more inefficient than just directly subsidizing security expenses.
    - It's also being gamed to max out pensions. Screwing current taxpayers just isn't enough.
    - And in doing so it replaces private companies and staff, who can and do get held accountable for messing with event attendees, with largely unaccountable police officers.

    It will therefore enjoy bipartisan support and be adopted across the country.

  • Sevo||

    "...police officers are banking huge amounts of overtime for event coverage and charging it to taxpayers."

    Pikers!
    "One system service worker, BART's title for janitors, made a little more than $271,000 in 2015, with $162,050 of that in overtime. A year later, two other BART janitors joined him in collecting more than $100,000 in overtime pay in a year."
    https://www.sfchronicle.com/bayarea/article/
    BART-reining-in-janitor-overtime-after-public
    -12873558.php?cmpid=gsa-sfgate-result

  • MichaeI Hihn||

  • Sevo||

    I'm guessing that energy is pretty pricey in So Africa, since it seems cheaper to haul icebergs than de-salinize sea-water?

  • Echospinner||

    Nope they have energy companies able to install desalination plants right now. Many others who could compete for contracts to do the same.

    Local government has not had enough profit in certain pockets to solve the problem.

    Libertarians know that government corruption is a fact of nature.

  • MichaeI Hihn||

    McCain: Diagnosis Means I'm Free To Speak My Mind

    He's going to tell us about the aliens!

  • Chipper Morning Baculum||

    He's gonna take off the human skin at last.

  • Rossami||

    "It's not a liberal or a conservative issue" - it's a union issue. Look at who pushed for those rule changes in the first place. (But that does raise a question about who supports the unions.)

  • Sevo||

    The Economist continues down the rabbit hole:

    "Universal health care, worldwide, is within reach"
    [...]
    "Chile and Costa Rica spend about an eighth of what America does per person on health and have similar life expectancies. Thailand spends $220 per person a year on health, and yet has outcomes nearly as good as in the OECD."
    https://www.economist.com/news/
    leaders/21741138-case-it-powerful
    -oneincluding-poor-countries-
    universal-health-care-worldwide

    Proof that when MDs work for $10K/yr and there are no new treatments under development, you, too, can get cheap medical care.

  • I am the 0.000000013%||

    I'm sure I'd live a good 20 years longer if I couldn't afford food that is terrible for me, had to walk everywhere, hadn't had the luxury of spending for years drunk and drugged (college), and I didn't fly on airplanes next to people spreading 18 different varieties of death/zombie germs.

    You get to long life by basic sanitation.

    You get to a long life that's worth living by having a free market in everything, especially health care.

  • SIV||

    Nashville sucks. I kinda broke an engagement just so I wouldn't have to move there.

  • Marty Feldman's Eyes||

    As someone who lived in Memphis for many years and had to put up with Nashville's bullshit sense of superiority, thank you for this small fleeting moment of validation.

  • SIV||

    Memphis is a great city. It's the most popular place name by far, in the music lyrics of all human language .

  • Chipper Morning Baculum||

    She was the one that flew the coop, eh?

  • IceTrey||

    Why is the Mayor or council or whoever allowing this?

  • SIV||

    The 'ho mayor resigned and plead guilty to a felony. I don't think the new mayor had time to set this up.

  • Brian Whittle||

    "March that the changes were needed as a result of "violence and terror attacks around the world and in the U.S."" what a load of crap.

  • ThanksForTheFish||

    Time to have a debate about bringing back tarring and feathering as a punishment. Starting with the police spokesman.

  • gphx||

    What else does the government actually do besides point guns at people?

  • BBerry12||

    Please explain: if they are working the event off duty, why are they getting overtime? Or anything else from the city?

  • ThanksForTheFish||

    Two words: union contract.

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