Metro Louisville

Louisville Metro Council members questioned new Louisville Metro Police Chief Erika Shields Wednesday on issues ranging from disrupting violent crime to tolerance for white supremacy.

She told members of the public safety committee she sees the third-party deep analysis of the LMPD, which was released last week, as a roadmap for addressing the department’s challenges.

John Boyle | wfpl.org

New LMPD Police Chief Erika Shields

“There are obviously multiple issues at play that need addressing within LMPD,” she said. “And this document really helps to simply describe them while also providing the data necessary to sway the naysayers who think there isn’t an issue.”

The report’s authors found LMPD to be a department “in crisis.”

Shields was sworn in as the permanent chief last month, following two interim chiefs. They filled in after Mayor Greg Fischer fired longtime chief Steve Conrad last year in the wake of the fatal shootings of Breonna Taylor in March and David McAtee in June.

Here are some of the questions posed by council members and Shields’ responses to them. Answers have been edited for length and clarity.

Jessica Green (D-1), chair of the public safety committee: How do you plan to increase the ranks of Black officers…in particular, Black leadership — not persons of color, but Black?

ES: I was shocked when I got here, and I started looking at the ranks, specifically how many individuals were Black that were lieutenants. It’s important because that’s the pool of candidates you look to to appoint from, and I think I saw one.

My job is to say it’s two-pronged. It’s, one, to take the existing Black employees and ensure that they are being afforded every opportunity. And that may sound fundamental, but it’s not. And to also ensure that when they have the opportunity to take a promotional exam, they’re taking the promotional exams, because I need them to start moving upward so they can go into appointed positions. Concurrent with this, I have to look at how we’re going about recruiting and hiring people. We’re clearly not putting an emphasis where we need to.

JG, question via social media: How will you ensure that LMPD candidates are vetted to exclude anyone associated with white nationalism white supremacist organizations? Do you believe that police officers who are involved in white supremacist causes can provide for public safety effectively?

ES: Can someone who is engaged in white supremacy, or any hate group for that matter, provide public safety? The answer is unequivocally no.

Historically, what you’ve seen is when applicants come on, there’s a huge amount of delving into their social media, along with more traditional lines of background and recruitment…What we saw at the Capitol, it obviously brought home that there are things going on that we’ve just not as a society… recognized for what they are. And this is why our relationship with the FBI is so critical…We are looking at relying on them heavily for intelligence on any individuals that may be associated with even at a fringe element on the fringes of one any of these organizations that are deemed to be hate organizations, specifically, what we’ve seen most recently, which is the white supremacist paradigm

Donna Purvis (D-5): I would like to know if you have outlined plans to address the heinous crime. If so, will it be division-specific to address the specific crimes committed in the areas? What are your thoughts on addressing and combating gang crimes?

ES: My focus has always been singularly on guns and illegal guns that are on the street. You can spend all day chasing someone who may have broken into a car, who may have engaged in a narcotics transaction. And you may or may not get someone who’s actually relevant to what you’re trying to accomplish.

It’s imperative that you are aiming for the most violent offender, and the person causing the most harm to the communities. So the key for that is you’re not just arbitrarily going out and conducting random traffic stops, hoping that you maybe get some dope. Know the individuals who are driving the violent crime and when you start there, and you have an intelligence-led approach, and you start to build out the tree, which is the network that is driving the crime in the community, that is how you make inroads to violent crime.

Cassie Chambers Armstrong (D-8): Tell me a little bit about tools that you think are effective at disciplining officers, holding them accountable when they’re not living up to the standards that you are setting for your department.

ES: The first thing that has to happen is these internal affairs files have to be automated. I’m coming in here and I’m told I have 70 internal affairs files that are backed up. It tells you that…the officer who needed corrective counseling action is going to get it two years, three years after the incident, which is like telling a kid when they’re 5 years old that they shouldn’t have done something when they were two. It’s not to belittle someone and say they’re a child, again, I don’t want folks to get sensitive. It’s to say if you’re really trying to modify and improve someone’s performance, you need to give them real-time feedback, not two or three years later.

Jecorey Arthur (D-4): LMPD and corrections are half of our city budget. So my question is, what is your position on divesting from LMPD and investing in preventative measures when it comes to impacting crime?

ES: I’m fully on board with understanding the need for there to be partnership, a collaborative model, a co-produced product.

It’s starting with triage and the call. So the 911 call comes in and the operator’s making the determination, ‘Wow, we don’t need the police on this. We need the caseworkers.’ Or the caseworkers may get there and ask for the police or they both may need to go out at once. But it’s getting services dispatched, and not the police every time and then backing into getting the services. I understand there is a financial component to it. And I know that discussions are already afoot, and there’s been a financial commitment for LMPD to fund the study and the training of the program. I don’t think that’s been finalized, but it is in the works.

Marilyn Parker (R-18): [Hilliard Heintz] cited a problem in that report that LMPD is placing inexperienced officers in supervisory roles. I wondered if…you’ve had any thought yet, after reading that report, how many supervisory roles we may need people in… and possibly ballpark cost for that?

ES: This department due to the attrition, for whatever reason, is very young. And what that means to me is particularly once COVID starts to lift, it’s imperative that these folks get exposure to training and leadership training.

I have not gotten the sense that the supervisory ranks are necessarily depleted. I think what obviously is an obstacle is just overall hiring.

It’s just mentorship, leadership, however you want to frame it. We cannot invest enough in training, because this department is so young. In terms of, do we need more supervisors? I’d say right now, we just need to figure out a way to be hiring folks. That is objective number one.

Amina Elahi is WFPL's City Editor.