Investigations

Louisville Metro police officers and city employees would be barred from enforcing federal civil immigration laws under a proposed city ordinance set to be introduced Thursday night.

Councilman S. Brandon Coan, one of the ordinance’s sponsors, said the premise of the proposal has been in the works since the start of the Trump administration — and was hastened by a Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting story on city police officers assisting federal immigration agents.

(Read “Louisville Police Don’t Enforce Immigration – But Help The Feds Do It“)

Louisville Metro Council’s public safety committee will discuss the proposed change next week.

The changes mirror many of the policies laid out by Louisville Metro Police Chief Steve Conrad in a new policy announced last week. Coan said a law is a more “permanent and substantial” way to clarify for immigrant and refugee populations that local government employees are not seeking out or reporting immigration status.

“Our ordinance here tries to make very clear, more clear, when we think the police department should — and how they should — act with respect to ICE and other federal agencies,” Coan said. “I think there’s just an overwhelming concern that we should be directing our resources toward enforcing local criminal law.”

The KyCIR story revealed that Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents were asking LMPD to serve local warrants, make traffic stops and knock on the doors of non-violent offenders wanted for immigration offenses.

Conrad said he reviewed 23 dispatch calls cited by KyCIR and found that LMPD officers shouldn’t have had a role in four of them. Conrad has not responded to requests for details about those calls.

Many more incidents involving ICE would no longer be permissible under the new policy, which bars LMPD officers from knocking on doors for federal immigration agents or talking about enforcement on non-recorded lines.

A request for comment from LMPD’s public information office wasn’t immediately returned.

Advocates have been flooding the council chambers for months pushing Louisville to declare itself a sanctuary city. Coan said this ordinance would not do that — but it would move the city closer to living the “compassionate city” image it projects.

“One thing I’ve learned in talking with advocates and experts is this is not about some magic word, sanctuary city,” Coan said. “It’s about the policy.”

The proposed ordinance would also prevent the city’s Department of Corrections from entering into a 287(g) agreement, which is a federal program that deputizes local police or sheriff’s deputies to enforce immigration laws.

Other Metro employees would also see new guidelines under the ordinance, which notes that they should only ask about immigration status when specifically required to do so by law or to assess eligibility for a program.

Also, Metro employees would be barred from using government resources or personnel “solely for the purpose of detecting or apprehending persons whose only violation of law is or may be being undocumented.”

Councilman David James, a former police officer who chairs the council’s public safety committee, said the proposal isn’t intended to limit the police department’s ability to enforce criminal laws in their purview.

“We’re just trying to ensure that all the citizens that live in the city have a comfort level that they can come to police if they need it,” James said.

Kate Howard can be reached at khoward@kycir.org and (502) 814.6546.

Kate Howard is a veteran investigative reporter specializing in government accountability and higher education issues.