Community

Former Atlanta Police chief Erika Shields is the new Louisville Metro Police chief.

Shields stepped down from her post in June after officers shot and killed Rayshard Brooks in a Wendy’s parking lot. The officer who shot Brooks was quickly fired, and Shields said in a statement that she resigned because “it is time for the city to move forward and build trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve.”

Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer announced Shields’ hire during a press conference Wednesday morning, calling her a “change agent” and praising her for stepping down after the Brooks shooting.

“When tragedy happened in her city, she put her city before herself, stepping down so she would not be a distraction as their community worked to heal,” he said.

Speaking during the news conference announcing her hiring, Shields acknowledged a need for healing across the country and in Louisville.

“I also see an incredible opportunity Louisville and LMPD have: the opportunity to get this right and to create a model for other cities to follow,” she said.

Council member Anthony Piagentini (R-19), vice chair of the government accountability committee, tweeted a welcome message to Shields.

“I look forward to meeting her and working together to improve LMPD and the relationship they have with our citizens,” he wrote.

Shields said her time with Atlanta Police Department positions her to understand the communities that feel most removed from LMPD. She noted that the police department and city are majority-Black, and that she’s worked only for Black mayors and police chiefs.

Council member Jessica Green (D-1), chair of the public safety committee, said Shields is interested in “21st Century policing.”

“Please give Chief Shields an opportunity to earn your trust,” Green said. 

How We Got Here

Fischer fired longtime chief Steve Conrad, whose tenure was marked by a number of scandals, in early June — weeks before the veteran law enforcement officer was set to retire. Conrad announced his plan to retire as national scrutiny intensified over the fatal police shooting of Breonna Taylor.

His employment was cut short when Fischer learned police officers with National Guard members who fired at and killed BBQ chef David McAtee didn’t capture body camera video.

Deputy police chief Robert Schroeder replaced Conrad in an interim position. He took over as protests continued to swell in Louisville, and made some quick changes, including amending the department’s policy related to using chemical agents against peaceful protesters.

Schroeder’s most notable action was firing Brett Hankison, an officer involved in the raid on Taylor’s apartment who Schroeder said “wantonly and blindly” fired 10 rounds. Hankison was, later, the only officer indicted by a grand jury for wanton endangerment of Taylor’s neighbors. 

In September, Schroeder announced his intention to retire. That came after he was subpoenaed to testify under oath by Metro Council, as part of an investigation into police response to protests.

He subsequently sought an answer to a murky legal question related to an unrelated ongoing lawsuit to delay his appearance at council. Eventually, a judge ruled he must appear and he faced four hours of questioning days before his retirement. 

Schroeder acknowledged feeling overwhelmed by the protests and said the police could have responded better.

“Our response was not always perfect. We are not perfect people,” he said. “What you also saw was that we responded in a manner that was the best we could reasonably do under the unprecedented circumstances that we face, combined with our limited staffing resources.”

Former LMPD deputy chief Yvette Gentry took over for Schroeder in October, making clear she did not plan to stay on long-term.

Last week, Gentry informed two detectives connected to the Breonna Taylor case — Joshua Jaynes and Myles Cosgrove — that she planned to fire them. As of Tuesday, no final decision had been announced.

Unlike other major cities, Louisville has refused to release its shortlist of finalists for the position of top cop. An eight-person search panel interviewed more than 20 candidates for the job. Fischer said Shields was the unanimous choice of the selection committee.

Shields was a police officer for 25 years. She will be sworn in as LMPD chief on Jan. 19.

Amina Elahi is WFPL's City Editor.