Metro Louisville

U.S. Department of Justice attorneys are calling on Louisvillians to share their concerns about the city’s police department.

Lawyers from the federal agency’s civil rights division held a virtual community meeting Wednesday night as they begin investigating whether the department routinely uses excessive force and violates constitutional rights.

U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland announced the investigation on Monday. It comes amid increased scrutiny of Louisville police after the 2020 killing of Breonna Taylor and the department’s aggressive response to racial justice protests.

Charles Hart, an attorney with the Justice Department, said the investigation needs input from members of the community.

“We’re asking that you speak to us one more time, raise your voice one more time, so that we can gain whatever knowledge that you have and insights that you have and use it in this investigation. Because this investigation might be different,” Hart said.

The investigation will include alleged excessive force against protesters and those with behavioral health disabilities. Investigators will also look into potential unreasonable stops, searches and seizures as well as racial discrimination.

An audit of Louisville Metro Police Department released earlier this year described its relationship with the city’s Black community as “deeply strained,” finding that police disproportionately stop, arrest and give tickets to Black people.

The audit also found that police officers don’t always follow protocol when obtaining search warrants and that supervisory review of the warrant process was “minimal.”

During the meeting on Wednesday, the attorneys said the investigation would go beyond the audit — and that the Justice Department could hold the city and department accountable through enforcement actions.

Paul Killebrew, another attorney with the Justice Department, said any enforcement wouldn’t necessarily hold individual officials accountable, but attempt to reform the system.

“LMPD is going to have a lot of chiefs in the future. The city is going to have a lot of mayors. What we want to make sure happens is that constitutional rights are protected, no matter who those leaders are. That there are systems that are in place that will endure,” Killebrew said.

Depending on the findings of the investigation, the department could implement a consent decree — an order by a federal court that forces cities or agencies to fix systemic problems.

The attorneys couldn’t provide an estimate of how long the investigation would take, but recent investigations into Baltimore and Chicago’s police departments — which are larger than Louisville’s — took a little more than a year.

The department said it would provide some information to the city in real time if they believed issues could be addressed before the end of the investigation, the attorneys said.

Members of the public can provide feedback to the Justice Department by emailing Community.Louisville@usdoj.gov or calling (844) 920-1460.

Ryland Barton is the Capitol bureau chief for Kentucky Public Radio.