The public push to remove the head of the Louisville Metro Police Department is intensifying.
The Louisville Metro Council on Thursday voted 13-9 to approve a resolution which “urges Mayor Greg Fisher [sic] to ask for Chief Conrad’s resignation and open the selection process for a new LMPD Chief.”
The resolution is a non-binding measure that requires no formal action from Fischer.
Following the vote, Fischer released a statement affirming his full support of Conrad.
“This vote is a distraction from the real work many people in the city are doing to fight crime,” Fischer said in the statement. “Our citizens expect Metro Council to work with Chief Conrad and LMPD to help improve our crime fighting plan. Instead, too many members are just critics and simplistically target one person for a complex problem – and it comes on the heels of the Metro Council cutting funding to important public safety programs like Cure Violence.”
And Conrad, himself, has been adamant in his refusal to resign from his post as head of the local police department.
The resolution is akin to a so-called no-confidence vote – which are often held by police unions to show disapproval of police leadership.
But some experts in criminal justice and policing say legislative body holding such a vote is unprecedented.
Still, the council members took nearly an hour discussing the measure before casting their votes and the criticisms of the chief were sharp.
Councilman David James, a core sponsor of the resolution and former police union head, lamented the plague of violence in neighborhoods and said Conrad’s leadership has contributed to the lowest morale among police officers in some three decades.
“Our police chief is not the answer to this whole thing,” James said. “But he has an effect on it.”
Angela Leet, a Republican, said police officer and citizens “deserve better.”
“He has systematically failed us,” she said. “Chief Conrad either will not, cannot or simply refuses to answer this council’s questions regarding public safety issues in our community.”
Bill Hollander, chair of the council’s Democratic caucus, said solving crime is a complex issue and can not be solved by a single person.
“A new chief can’t stop the scourge of drugs, can’t stop the influence of gangs, can’t restore hope for people who have suffered too long for a lack of opportunities,” he said.
Conrad did not attend the meeting Thursday night. A police spokesman did not return a request for comment.
Fischer also did not attend the meeting. Poynter, his spokesman, said Fischer was attending a U.S. Conference of Mayors event in New Orleans.
Despite Fischer’s absence, several members of his administration attended the meeting, filling up three rows of seats in the rear of council chambers.
A cadre of citizens also held up signs supporting Conrad during the meeting.
Connie McFarland, one of those residents, said Conrad “is needed out here.” She said both her children have died as a result of violence in recent months and Conrad was the only city employee to contact in the aftermath.
“He is not responsible for the increase in homicides,” she said. “To those pointing at the chief, I am asking you, ‘what have you done to help the community.'”
Surging Violent Crime
The resolution, which is sponsored by a bipartisan coalition of council members, moved out of a committee earlier this month after a tight 3-2 vote.
The basis of the resolution is multifaceted, including continuing violent crime, low officer morale, an ongoing investigation of sexual abuse within the police department, a lack of transparency on Conrad’s part, and a controversial reorganization of the police department made late last year at the behest of Conrad.
Violent crime in Louisville, specifically murder, has surged in recent years, according to police data. The city’s homicide tally through the end of June was the highest it’s been since 2013, per the data.
Despite this increase, Fischer and Conrad recently touted a drop in overall crime. In fact, violent crime is down about five percent this year compared with last year and property crime is down about three percent compared with last year.
Some council members, however, have criticized such messaging and accused city and police leaders of “manipulating” crime data to project a better picture than reality.
‘No-Confidence’ Votes Traditionally Held By Unions
This is not the first no-confidence vote Conrad has faced in recent months.
Late last year, the River City Fraternal Order of Police, the local police union, held a similar vote in which 98 percent of the some 600 members who cast votes said they lacked confidence in Conrad.
Dave Mutchler, head of the police union, didn’t respond to a request for a comment on Thursday.
The hiring and firing of police chiefs is done solely at the discretion of the mayor. Conrad is the city’s highest salaried employee and not currently under contract. He is paid $175,000 per year, according to a city database.
Fischer has called both votes a “distraction” from broader efforts to address violent crime. And some experts have dismissed such votes as futile.
Sam Walker, an author and expert on policing and police accountability, said the votes are, generally, symbolic.
“Votes of no confidence really don’t mean anything,” he said.
Darrell Stephens, head of the Major Cities Chiefs Association, said earlier this month that a no-confidence vote held outside traditional police unions “seems a little like an overstep, to me.”
He said he’d hope residents are “more thoughtful about the problems the city is experiencing and not transfer all the responsibility to one individual.”
“It’s disappointing a city council would take a step like that,” he said.
Nicole Gonzalez Van Cleve, assistant professor in Temple University’s Department of Criminal Justice, echoed Stephens in that such a vote is a rare move from a local legislative body.
But it’s an interesting measure, she said, that could give the public a say “as to the types of police organizations they have in their communities.”
“It seems like a way to have some level of public accountability in policing,” she said. “Even if it is symbolic.”