The president of the River City Fraternal Order of Police said an open letter sent Thursday to Louisville residents should not be taken as a threat. Still, the mayor and police chief are criticizing the FOP president’s “threatening tone” in his remarks and the letter.
On Friday, local FOP President David Mutchler said he wrote the letter to let the public know how Louisville Metro Police officers feel about residents who have lashed out at law enforcement in what he believes is a disparaging or defamatory manner.
“We’re not going to, as we move forward, allow anyone to tell lies about us or vilify us,” he said during a news conference on Friday afternoon.
“We have a right to call them out, and we will.”
But, in a joint statement released late Friday, Mayor Greg Fischer and Chief Steve Conrad said Mutchler’s letter and remarks had a “threatening tone.” They wrote:
“Mr. Mutchler, in separate phone calls with both of us prior to his news conference, said he was seeking to clarify his position, strike a constructive tone, and emphasize that no person of good will should feel threatened in our city. After listening to his press conference remarks, we remain very concerned that Mr. Mutchler, with the leadership position he holds, does not understand the impact of the tone of his remarks and original letter.
“The threatening tone is not representative of the vast majority of our officers or our citizens – and many have told us that they have a significantly differently view than Mr. Mutchler. His words do absolutely nothing to help build community-police relations and undermine the noble and difficult work our police do every day, from keeping us safe and secure in our homes to protecting our First Amendment right to speak our minds.”
Soon after its release on Thursday, Louisville activists and others were instantly critical of the letter; on social media, many wrote that they viewed the letter as a direct threat. Some called for Mutchler’s resignation.
He said he will not be resigning.
The letter called out “sensationalists, liars and race-baiters,” saying “your idiocy and lies are what caused the destruction in Ferguson and other cities around our country and we won’t be tolerating that here … consider yourselves on notice.”
At Friday’s news conference, Mutchler said he wasn’t trying to silence anyone with the letter.
“Everyone has a right to say what they want,” he said.
But Mutchler also said he will advocate for investigations—at the local, state or federal level—of anyone who says or does anything that brings actual harm to a police officer, physically or professionally.
“Silence is read as apathy or it’s read as agreement,” he said. “So, I think it’s important that police officers can’t stand by any longer and let people vilify them, run over them, lie about them without responding.”
The letter was sent days after a Louisville Metro Police officer shot and killed a Sudanese refugee in Old Louisville. But Mutchler said no event in particular led him to send the letter. The opinions he expressed had been growing for years.
“It’s been brewing,” he said. “There wasn’t on specific catalyst.”
He said he is open to meeting with local activists to discuss what changes they want Louisville Metro Police make. But he added he has yet to see any specific requests from activists.
“I have yet—at least to me or what I’ve seen—had anybody articulate what exactly it is they think my members aren’t doing that they should be doing or are doing that they shouldn’t be doing, or what they could do,” he said.
He said he doesn’t expect the letter to cause any additional strain on police and community relations.
But David James, a Metro Council member whose district includes Old Louisville and who is a former FOP president, said he expects the letter to add to strained relations between residents and law enforcement.
In a statement, the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky said the letter will “only serve to further divide our community when we need to be building up trust.”
“Threatening the community does nothing to build the ‘freedom, safety and the ability to live our lives happily and without fear,’ that Sgt. Mutchler says we all strive to attain,” the ACLU of Kentucky said in a statement on its website.
The Louisville Metro Human Relations Commission, a city department, said in a statement that the letter expressed “some valid concerns of the police,” but was “unnecessarily aggressive and divisive … at a time when police and citizen relations are tense.”
“Many perceived the tone as threatening,” the commission’s statement said.
Nonetheless, Mutchler maintained throughout a barrage of reporters’ questions that the letter was no threat. He said it is a representation of the police union he represents.
Though the nearly 1,200 local FOP members did not vote on the letter, Mutchler said everyone in the police union he has spoken to since sending the letter has expressed support for the message he conveyed.
When asked how many of those members he has had contact with, he said “dozens, I don’t know, a hundred or more.”