LMPD Chief Shields Shares Her Insight Into Violence, Policing In Louisville: 4 Takeaways From Tuesday’s Town Hall

On Tuesday night, LMPD Chief Erika Shields appeared alongside anti-violence activist Christopher 2X, Louisville’s Chief of Community Building Keith Talley and Pegasus Institute executive director Josh Crawford in a town hall event on public safety hosted by Republican members of Metro Council.

Here are some of the noteworthy and new things the chief of police said about gun violence, accountability, recruitment and mental health. 

1. Chief Shields said accountability and transparency are coming to the department

“There was clearly some wrongdoing by select individuals. And no one is shirking that responsibility. No one. And you are going to see the hammer come down. It’s been coming down,” she said when asked about why she believed LMPD pay should go up when the force has a stained reputation and is under investigation by the Department of Justice. “You are going to see a level of transparency that you’ve never seen before from the police department. It’s going to continue.”

However, to have LMPD at its best, she said officers need to be compensated. 

> Who Is The Real Erika Shields? New Chief Often Espouses Progressive Views But Still Attracts Controversy

“If you’re not prepared to invest in law enforcement as a product, the product you get is not going to be able to hit the benchmarks or the standards that you need. That’s been shown time and time again,” she said.

By lacking a culture of accountability for “an extended period of time”, practices and cultures that were “very damaging” to the community emerged within LMPD she said. 

“But you can’t just throw the product out and say well, you know, you failed here so I’m not going to invest in you and think you’re going to have a better product five years from now. That’s just not going to happen,” she said.

2. Shields shared details on gang activity in Louisville and what she believes is driving the violence

“So the gang landscape in Louisville is we have, by best estimates, probably 10 gangs that have some level of influence over different groups of individuals. And it’s loosely associated members and some are much more involved than others,” she said. 

She also said that a lot of the violence that Louisville is seeing this year  — which is already the second-deadliest in the city’s history — is “senseless.”

“Most of the time it is absolutely senseless what is driving the gang violence. It may be retaliation for something on social media. It may be looking at someone’s girlfriend wrong. Yes, it may be robbing someone for drugs,” she said. “But most of the the time when you look at it, it’s just the form of conflict resolution that we’re seeing is shooting one another whereas 20 years ago or 25 years ago when I started policing people might physically assault one another. And that goes back to the availability of guns unfortunately.”

3. Shields said LMPD officers are suffering from PTSD

“LMPD officers, many of them I would say, have PTSD after last year. And that’s not to fault anybody who was at the protests — let me be clear on that,” she said.

The protests, Shields said, arrived on top of other stressors police officers already faced.

“They might have been under stress — many of them I’m sure were — going into the protests,” she said. “That’s what you find in many law enforcement families: That there’s dependency on alcohol, credit problems, divorce. Again, the profession has not been constructed to deal with all the stressors the job provides.”

She also praised LMPD’s peer support program and said there has been a greater openness to talking about mental health in recent years compared to when she started off as an officer in Atlanta in the 1990s.

“I always compared policing to the NFL,” she said of previous attitudes towards mental health among police. “That it was really, ‘You better just go in there and you better dig into the trenches and get it done. And you better not ask for help.’ If you ask for help you were weak.”

4. LMPD is exploring new ways to address its staffing shortage

Down 300 officers, LMPD is looking for ways to gain more personnel and speed up the recruitment process, Shields said.

“We’re looking at implementing a lateral hiring program that would shorten the length of time someone has to be in a police academy. Those are done all across the country,” she said. “We’re looking at how long we have recruits in the academy right now — I think there’s probably some programs that can be done online before they even start the academy.”

“Lateral hiring” refers to police departments hiring officers from other departments. According to LMPD’s website, the department is currently not accepting applications for lateral transfers, meaning that experienced police officers moving to Louisville would have to attend LMPD’s recruit academy, which lasts half a year. Upon graduation, however, those with experience as police officers may enter the force with a higher salary.

So far this year, LMPD’s training academy has graduated 60 officers but the department has lost more than 115 officers according to figures published by the police force this week.

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