Metro Louisville

An independent review shows the Louisville Metro Police Department needs to improve on a number of measures, including relationships with communities of color, officer morale and leadership consistency, Mayor Greg Fischer said Thursday. 

Fischer ordered the audit, conducted by Chicago-based Hillard Heintze, to examine everything from police interactions with the public to training policies. It was one of the city’s responses to the shooting death by police of Breonna Taylor, subsequent mass protests, and the National Guard’s fatal shooting of David McAtee, an incident that involved LMPD officers.

The findings were released Thursday, and an accompanying letter stated: “Our principal finding is that the LMPD and communities across the Louisville Metro area are in crisis. The Department needs to make major changes — some immediately.”

The 105-page report said LMPD’s relationship with the Black community is “deeply strained,” and the city hasn’t come up with a strategy to develop trust and provide equitable treatment.

Louisville police also make disproportionate contact with Black people, conducting “field interrogations,” stopping their cars and arresting them more than other citizens, according to the audit.

“As noted, in Louisville, officers stop, arrest and issue citations to a disproportionate number of Black individuals. This, coupled with research stating individuals have increased fear, mistrust and anxiety during interactions with law enforcement demonstrates how training officers on de-escalating situations is imperative,” the report states.

Louisville Metro Police Chief Erika Shields said the report would put the city on a path it has “needed to be on for a very long time.”

“The report spells it out in black and white. We need to improve, and we have a lot of work ahead of us,” Shields said.

“Constant communication that is transparent and inclusive of the community will be essential to move forward.”

Black people made up 41% of total arrests in Louisville in 2019 despite making up 21% of the city’s total population, according to the report.

The audit found that despite efforts to improve LMPD’s search warrant procedures in recent years, officers don’t always follow policies and protocols.

“Some of the LMPD personnel we interviewed believe that Narcotics Unit personnel are often driven by competition over who can seize the most drugs,” the report stated.

“Interviewees expressed concerns that because of this perceived competition, some Narcotics Unit personnel may avoid involving the SWAT team because it could slow down their process of applying for and executing a search warrant.”

The audit found problems with how some officers prepare affidavits used to obtain warrants, saying “supervisory review was minimal.”

“Interviewees described a ‘culture of acceptance’ within the LMPD in which supervisors seldom queried officers regarding the underlying facts and circumstances necessary to demonstrate probable cause.”

The audit also stated 75% of interviewees within LMPD said they would leave the department if they had the opportunity, a finding auditors called “extremely troubling.”

“Putting aside the department’s inability to staff its shifts adequately, the loss of senior personnel has resulted in younger officers being taught by officers who have little more experience than they do,” the report states.

Fischer has touted the review as one aspect of the city’s commitment to hold the department accountable and build trust with community members. He has said the results will form the basis for changes within LMPD. City leadership, from Fischer to Metro Council, proceeded with some reforms in 2020 and is hoping for state lawmakers to grant them the power to take on others this year. So far this session, the Kentucky legislature has not taken up those issues.

Fischer expressed his confidence in the audit during a news briefing Thursday addressing the results of the analysis.

“Some of the findings, frankly, can be hard to take,” Fischer said. “But the nature of an audit…is to expose gaps so that we can address that.”

He said denial is not a strategy and that “we too often ask police to address all of society’s problems.”

“Because society has failed to make the necessary investments to address poverty, mental health, domestic violence, substance misuses and other challenges,” Fischer said.

In an interview with WFPL earlier this week, LMPD Chief Shields said officers can be defensive, and sometimes that happens because they’re fatigued. 

“My goal is to say, regardless of where you’ve been, at this point moving forward we have an obligation to accept the feedback, whether it’s the Hillard Heintze report—there’s going to be a comprehensive review of LMPD—whether it’s disciplinary findings,” she said. “We need to own the missteps. We need to own it, we need to acknowledge it, and we need to understand that accountability at its core means we don’t rationalize our behavior.”

This story was updated.

Amina Elahi is WFPL's City Editor.
Ryland Barton is the Capitol bureau chief for Kentucky Public Radio.