Community

Some Louisville Metro Council members want a new police chief.

Half of the legislative body’s 26 members gathered for a news conference Thursday, during which they repeatedly censured Louisville Metro Police Chief Steve Conrad and called for his resignation.

“We’re done,” said David James, head of the council’s public safety committee.

Earlier in the day, Conrad issued a letter announcing his decision to reorganize the police department’s upper ranks.

The move enraged some on the Metro Council. The members lambasted Conrad for not first consulting with the council before the shake up. Some criticized him for what they considered a lack of transparency and for failing to understand the desires of the communities being policed.

“I am just appalled,” said councilwoman Cindi Fowler, a District 14 Democrat. “It’s total disrespect and disregard for the citizens of this city.”

Conrad called a press conference to respond to the criticism, during which he said his decision to make changes to the department’s command staff was not unusual.

“Every police department experiences these types of changes,” he said. “That is normal.”

Conrad was hired in 2012 after serving as the top cop in Glendale, Arizona. Before that, he served more than 20 years working law enforcement in Louisville. He’s the city’s top salaried employee, according to publicly available salary data.

And his employment hinges on Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer, who has expressed unwavering support for Conrad in recent months. And on Thursday, Fischer issued a statement of continued support for the chief:

“Public safety is, and will always be, my top priority. As a businessman-mayor, I demand that Louisville Metro Government agencies, including the LMPD, continuously improve and make changes to address challenges. I trust that Chief Conrad, like the leader of every department in my administration, uses their experience and data to adjust their leadership teams when needed and when opportunities arise to meet our city’s goals and challenges. I want to thank those who are retiring for their service, and I am excited about the caliber of the individuals being promoted. I fully support the Chief and implore everyone in our community to work together to make every neighborhood in our city safe and healthy – this is what is truly important.”

Council president David Yates did not join his council colleagues for Thursday’s news conference, nor did the head of the council’s majority caucus, Bill Hollander. Neither immediately responded to a request for comment.

But the council members present were adamant and in unison in their call for Conrad to resign.

James, a former police officer, said he’d seek a council wide vote of confidence for Conrad in the coming weeks.

He said the elected legislators are tired “of the body counts and cover ups.”

The city’s homicide tally is outpacing last year, which ended with an all-time record high. Other violent crime reports are also surging, police data show.

And the police department is embroiled in a civil lawsuit, in which minors allege they were sexually abused by police leaders during their participation in LMPD’s Explorer program. The program caters to young residents interested in a career in law enforcement.

Councilwoman Angela Leet, a District 7 Republican, was the first to call for Conrad’s removal earlier this year. She thanked her colleagues for joining her stance Thursday.

As the council members addressed reporters in the conference room of city hall, they were flanked by large, yellow poster boards on which black letters denoted the annual homicide count.

Leet regularly displays the posters in her windows on the second floor of city hall for passers-by to see.

“The evidence of failed leadership is obvious on a daily basis,” she said. “There is nothing hopeful about failure.”

Council members were specifically upset with Conrad’s decision to remove Major Jimmy Harper from his post as commander of the department’s Second Division.

Harper is a near 30-year veteran of the city’s police agency.

James called Harper “a legend” of the department and described him as a leader who would work long hours late into the night assisting his officers on arrests and patrols and wouldn’t mince words when discussing gang-related crimes.

“The community loved him, his officers loved him,” James said.

By the end of the news conference, the council members seemed to agree that Harper would be their next choice for chief.

Jacob Ryan is a reporter for the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting.