After Previous Refusal, Louisville Police Agree To Cooperate With Oversight Body

Louisville Inspector General Ed Harness speaks at a press conference at Metro Hall on March 14, 2023.
Photo by Josh Wood.
Louisville Inspector General Ed Harness speaks at a press conference at Metro Hall on March 14, 2023.

In what Louisville Mayor Craig Greenberg described as “an important step” towards trust and transparency, the Louisville Metro Police Department has agreed to cooperate with the investigations conducted by the Office of Inspector General, which was created to provide oversight of the department and investigate citizen complaints of officer misconduct.

“One of the issues that our administration inherited was that this was not happening,” said Greenberg in a press conference at Metro Hall on Tuesday. “Officers were not cooperating with interview requests and complete body camera footage was not being supplied. That is unacceptable.”

Last year, LEO Weekly was the first news outlet to report that LMPD was refusing to give the Inspector General’s office access to body camera footage and other materials it needed to conduct its investigations.

The Office of Inspector General and the 11-member Civilian Review and Accountability Board were created by a 2020 ordinance to provide greater civilian oversight for LMPD following the police killing of Breonna Taylor. The review board votes to approve investigations of potential officer misconduct that the Officer of the Inspector General then investigates. However, those investigations have been hampered by a lack of cooperation; since beginning its work last summer, the office has yet to complete an investigation.

On Tuesday, Harness, who served a similar oversight role in Albuquerque, New Mexico before coming to Louisville in 2021, blamed the previous administration, which left office in January, for a “lack of action” in bringing about an agreement between LMPD and his office. Following the signing of a memorandum of understanding on Monday, LMPD will provide “direct” access to body camera footage without the need to request it, he added.

According to the agreement, a new LMPD policy will be put into place ordering officers to cooperate with the investigations by Harness’s office.

The announcement of the agreement came just under a week after the US Department of Justice released a blistering 90-page report documenting how LMPD showed a pattern of unconstitutional and racially-biased policing. As part of that report, the DOJ called the creation of the Inspector General’s office and the Civilian Review and Accountability Board “a positive step” but was critical of the bodies’ limited ability to ensure action following its investigations.

Among the 36 recommendations made by the DOJ was one about improving civilian oversight of the police department.

“To help build trust with the community, LMPD should cooperate with the Inspector General and Civilian Review and Accountability Board to promote robust and even-handed civilian oversight,” the DOJ wrote. “It should also prioritize transparency in its internal affairs, including reporting to the public about the nature of complaints received, misconduct findings made, and discipline imposed.”

According to Greenberg, the memorandum of understanding penned between the police force and Inspector General addresses that recommendation.

Greenberg added that, like the agreement between the Inspector General’s office and LMPD, “little to none” of the recommendations made by the DOJ would have to be addressed through changes to the city’s contract with the police union. (In recent weeks, Greenberg has faced criticism over not allowing the public to observe the city’s upcoming negotiations with the police union. Some critics, like the police reform activist group The 490 Project, have warned that the DOJ’s reforms could be blunted by provisions negotiated into the city’s contract with the police union).

Under the ordinance that created the Inspector General’s Office and Civilian Review and Accountability Board, the Inspector General only has the ability to share its findings with LMPD and make recommendations; in short, the office cannot hand out punishment for misconduct. According to the memorandum of understanding, the Inspector General’s Office can only conduct administrative investigations for breaches of policy and must hand over cases involving alleged criminal conduct to LMPD.

LMPD’s in-house investigations were a lightning rod of criticism in the DOJ report, which called them “flawed” and said they often failed to be “thorough, impartial and timely.”

In internal breach of policy investigations, the DOJ was critical of how the chief is able to — and often does — reduce punishment for officers involved in misconduct after hearing them, or a representative, plead their case in an off-the-record meeting. The DOJ report also included incidents involving officers who are still on the force and received little, if any, punishment for incidents they were involved in following internal investigations.

Speaking to LEO Weekly after the announcement of the memorandum of understanding on Tuesday, Harness said his office is unlikely to be able to look into those cases as that would be “double jeopardy” for already-adjudicated incidents.

Following the release of the DOJ report, there has been a noticeable shift in tone in how city officials talk about LMPD’s missteps and failures. When an LMPD firearms instructor shot a recruit during training last Friday, LMPD called it a “serious training failure.” And on Monday, Greenberg called the police killing of Breonna Taylor three years ago “murder” for the first time.