The LMPD Lacks Control: An Ongoing Crisis

I’m sure many in the community are exhausted hearing about all the problems with Louisville Metro Police.

Unfortunately, LMPD keeps making the same mistakes, and the public keeps getting the same ambiguous excuses. Two episodes over the weekend make clear that LMPD has not made any progress in reforming itself. Both instances reveal that the corrupted culture in the department is pervaded by individuals incapable of learning from past mistakes and who lack the self awareness to understand how their failings reflect on other officers and the department. 

Last Friday, LMPD apologized after officers cleared a downtown homeless camp, displacing seven individuals and trashing their belongings — just before nightfall in below-freezing temperatures. The police blamed the mistake on “miscommunication.” 

“LMPD takes full responsibility for the miscommunication leading to these circumstances and we apologize for this error, which was ours, not that of the city’s Office for Resilience and Community Services or others providing homeless services,” said LMPD spokesperson Beth Ruoff. 

How many times are Louisvillians expected to believe that trashing people’s belongings was just a miscommunication? 

Mayor Greg Fischer cited “miscommunication” when city officials trashed the personal property of protesters just a few months ago.

The Metro Council even passed an ordinance in 2018 requiring residents of homeless encampments be given 21-days notice before camps are cleared out, specifically to prevent situations like this one. How long does it take police to communicate local laws? More importantly, why does any police officer think it’s better to trash first and ask questions later?

LMPD’s bad weekend didn’t stop there. 

On Saturday morning, an LMPD officer parked his police car in front of the EMW Women’s Surgical Center and marched alongside anti-abortion protestors — reportedly carrying a “40 days for life” sign, supporting an anti-abortion organization — while wearing his gun on his hip. (I’ll bet he illegally parked his car, too, but that’s less important right now.) 

“It was brought to our attention that an employee may have participated in a protest or demonstration while in uniform and using an LMPD vehicle,” Ruoff said in a statement. And, “if it is determined that an employee engaged in such activities, they will immediately be placed on administrative reassignment while the investigation proceeds. It is essential that we maintain a posture of neutrality while representing the department and behavior contrary to this will not be tolerated.”

“Posture of neutrality”…? This isn’t international affairs. Normal-thinking people don’t need the LMPD to explain why it’s important for police officers to not march with abortion protesters outside of a health clinic. What we need to hear is what the department is going to do to make sure it never happens again; What do you mean by “… will not be tolerated”? 

More than anything, we deserve to know how the police are going to ensure patients of the EMW clinic, and patients’ escorts, feel safe.

Any officer who lacks the self awareness to realize that his cop car, uniform and gun are tools of intimidation, lacks the basic capacity to be a police officer. It’s also likely that he knew exactly what he was doing — that his presence would be more noticeable and intimidating as a police officer. So, he selfishly abused his power, behind the protection of the badge, as so many other police officers have done. 

This was not a training issue. It wasn’t a policy that needs to be reexamined. And, it wasn’t miscommunication. This was either a failure of common sense or a brazen abuse of power — or both.

After killing Breonna Taylor, covering up the Explorer Scout sex scandal and all the other mistakes and miscommunications, each LMPD slip-up and abuse of power amplifies the negative impression of all police officers — even those who are doing a good job serving and protecting their community. Each story compounds the damage to the entire department’s reputation.

No longer can this be tolerated. The routine, slap-on-the-wrist reprimands and half-assed public relations efforts won’t fix the broken culture at LMPD. If Chief Erika Shields wants to establish a new culture at LMPD, she needs to send a message, and replace these officers with people who give a damn.