Mayoral Nominees On Policing And Accountability In Louisville

Aug 17, 2022 at 12:09 pm
Democratic mayoral candidate Craig Greenberg  |  Photo by Carolyn Brown.
Democratic mayoral candidate Craig Greenberg | Photo by Carolyn Brown. Republican mayoral candidate Bill Dieruf | Photo by Josh Wood.

For the next mayor of Louisville, policing — and rebuilding trust in Louisville’s police force — will be a major issue. After a tumultuous 2020 that saw the police killing of Breonna Taylor spark months of protests, the Louisville Metro Police Department came under a Department of Justice pattern or practice investigation that is expected to result in a federal consent decree.

Separately, the DOJ has built misconduct cases against LMPD officers, with seven charged this year alone. Most recently, on Aug. 4, four LMPD former officers were charged for their role in the raid on Breonna Taylor’s apartment — including two officers who had not been disciplined by LMPD. The department’s own investigations into alleged officer misconduct can be delayed by years.

As trust in LMPD has frayed, 2022 is the third year in a row where Louisville has seen more than 100 homicides. And the police department is hundreds of officers short. Both Democratic nominee Craig Greenberg and his opponent, Republican Bill Dieruf, say public safety is their top priority and have underscored the need to increase LMPD staffing and engage in community policing. Following the latest federal indictments, LEO Weekly sat down with both candidates to ask about issues that weigh on community trust in the police department.

Speed of Investigations

LMPD’s own internal investigations into alleged officer misconduct can, at times, take years to resolve. For instance: As LEO previously reported, in the case where an LMPD officer fired pepper balls at a Wave 3 News crew that was on air during protests in May 2020, the department had yet to initiate its investigation nearly two years after the incident, saying they had to wait for an FBI probe of the matter to be completed.

Both an officers’ bill of rights under Kentucky’s law and provisions in the city’s contract with the River City Fraternal Order of Police — the union representing officers — mandate that alleged misconduct must be investigated before an officer can be fired.

Outgoing Mayor Greg Fischer cited those provisions in 2020 to explain why he was not firing officers in the Breonna Taylor case. Both Greenberg and Dieruf said they would move quicker on investigations than the current administration does.

“I think part of improving trust between the community and the police, the community and the government is transparency, accountability and acting in as close to real time as possible. Being prompt,” said Greenberg. He added: “Acting with a sense of urgency is critical. In terms of disclosing facts. Releasing body camera footage. And taking action. All of that is important to happen with a sense of urgency.”

Dieruf, who is currently the mayor of the Louisville suburb of Jeffersontown, said his city moves quickly to address cases of alleged misconduct and that he would do the same as mayor of Louisville.

“In J-Town, we don’t procrastinate on moving forward with an officer,” said Dieruf. “If an officer has committed something as egregious as you’ve said, we investigate, we send it to the civil service and it is moved forward.”

He also said his city is transparent and that that practice would continue.

“As a mayor that has a police force right now, when situations occur, they’re rectified right away,” said Dieruf. “They’re also very transparent when we talk to the press. When we have a situation here, we not only are transparent the press but we bring in whoever [was affected], we sit down and talk to them.”

Trust In LMPD Investigating Itself

When the Department of Justice announced on Aug. 4 that four former LMPD officers would be charged in connection to the raid on Taylor’s apartment in 2020, the public was learning the names of two officers for the first time: Kyle Meany and Kelly Goodlett, who were both involved with the drafting of the warrant for Taylor’s home.

Despite an internal LMPD probe into the raid and an investigation by Attorney General Daniel Cameron’s office (Cameron claims his office’s “primary task” was looking at the execution of the search warrant, not the drafting of the warrant), no misconduct or criminal activity by those officers was previously found. LEO asked both candidates whether, given cases like this, they were concerned about LMPD’s ability to conduct internal investigations.

“LMPD uses the state police to investigate during situations generally like this. They didn’t then, but I understand they do now,” said Dieruf.

While the city announced in 2020 that the Kentucky State Police would take the lead on investigating shootings by Louisville police officers as a measure to rebuild community trust, a high-profile July 10 shooting at Shawnee Park was investigated by LMPD. Incidents of alleged officer misconduct that do not involve a shooting are investigated by LMPD unless an outside agency probes them for potential criminal charges.

Greenberg said he had some concern about LMPD’s ability to conduct investigations of its own officers, but that the new Inspector General’s office, which can independently investigate officer misconduct in response to citizen complaints, creates “an opportunity to improve that process.” He added that the city needs to make sure LMPD has the resources to do thorough investigations.

“Ultimately the mayor is accountable,” Greenberg said. “The mayor is accountable to the people. And the city government is accountable to the mayor. And it’s going to be my job to make sure that we hold people accountable when mistakes are made,” he said.

Bad Apples Or Bad Bushels?

When there is talk of police misconduct, the phrase “bad apples” invariably comes up — the idea that there are rare cases of individual officers whose conduct gives the entire department or profession a bad rap. In recent federal indictments of LMPD officers, however, it has been groups of officers involved. In the Breonna Taylor indictments, prosecutors allege that multiple officers knowingly included false information in their application for Taylor’s Springfield Drive apartment and later conspired to get their story straight. And in “Slushygate,” LMPD officers with the now-disbanded 9th Mobile Division allegedly threw drinks at pedestrians in the West End while filming their exploits and sharing videos of their assaults with fellow officers.

LEO Weekly asked the candidates whether they were concerned about the potential existence of groups of officers engaged in misconduct within LMPD.

“It’s certainly concerning,” said Greenberg. “I still think it’s a very small fraction of the total number of dedicated, hard working men and women of LMPD that are putting their lives at risk every day to protect all of us.” He added: “At the same time, when people in law enforcement… when people do things that are clearly not acceptable, we have to be transparent about that and we have to take appropriate action for that particular incident. That’s important. That’s a hallmark of transparency, accountability. I think that will help restore and improve trust in government at all levels.”

After the DOJ indicted four former LMPD officers on Aug. 4, Greenberg released a statement calling the charges “long overdue” and said Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron, whose office investigated Taylor’s death, “fell agonizingly short.”

Like Greenberg, Dieruf said he believes it is only a small fraction of police officers that are engaged in misconduct. “I’d say 98% of all police officers are great police officers. When they put on the badge everyday they’re here to protect us,” Dieruf said. “The few bad apples are in any profession. And any profession that has bad apples, we need to move them to another profession or move them out of the profession they’re in.”

FOP Contract

LEO also asked the candidates what they would change in the city’s contract with the police officers’ union.

“I have not read the contract to tell you what we would change,” said Dieruf.

His opponent, Greenberg, said when the contract is renegotiated next year, his focus would be on attracting more police officers to the short-staffed department.

“I am focused on right now ensuring that we have a police department that has the people and resources it needs to prevent violent crime. Right now, we are approximately 300 officers short of a fully-authorized staff. So that makes it difficult to be involved in community policing,” he said. “That’s going to be my focus in the negotiations with the FOP contract.”

Consent Decree

During the next administration, it is all but certain that Louisville’s police force will be under a federal consent decree following the Department of Justice’s wide-ranging pattern or practice investigation of LMPD. Consent decrees are settlements between the city and the federal government, with police departments agreeing to changes in policy and practices depending on what the DOJ demands. The agreements, which have notably been put in place on departments in cities like Baltimore, Cleveland and New Orleans, often last for years.

It’s not known what changes the DOJ will require, but both Greenberg and Dieruf say the consent decree is an opportunity to make LMPD better.

“As an accountant, so many people are afraid of being audited. But an audit is something to make you better, not as something you should fear,” said Dieruf. “So the same thing with this: we look at what they do to make the police department better and move forward with where LMPD should be to be the best of the best department. LMPD should be the department in the state that all other officers want to come to.” He added: “My intent has alway been to make the best of the best. Anybody that we hire in JTown, we always look for the best of the best. And when you do that, a consent decree doesn’t matter.”

Dieruf said that when his city’s department recently had two openings, 100 LMPD officers applied.

The Jeffersontown mayor plans on bringing his current police chief, Rick Sanders, to LMPD “in some capacity” if he is elected — a move he says will push the department in the right direction and enhance public trust.

Greenberg said he was not sure what the DOJ would find, but that as mayor, he too would use the consent decree to improve the force.

“We need to use that as an opportunity to make Louisville a safer city,” he said. “We need to use that as an opportunity to ensure we have the best trained, the most trusted and the most transparent police department in America. And as mayor, that’s going to be my focus: Working with any member of the community that wants to be a part of that solution. We all have to work together.”

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