Metro Louisville

After months of negotiation, Louisville Metro and the River City Fraternal Order of Police have agreed on a short-term contract that includes some changes that some hope will improve the police department.

The contract includes a pay increase and new health care benefits option, as well as a down payment assistance grant negotiated as part of the $12 million settlement the city entered with the family of Breonna Taylor, shot to death by police in March.

Metro Council’s labor and economic development committee could discuss a resolution to ratify the new contract next week. That measure has bipartisan support.

The proposed contract comes months after council passed a budget that preserved police funding, despite calls from some protesters to reduce or reallocate those dollars. It’s the first new contract since 2018, when the current contract expired. It’s been extended as-is since then.

If approved, the new contract would run out at the end of June 2021. City and union officials said they will begin negotiations on a longer-term contract by the end of January.

Police and city leaders have long said the department has struggled to attract and retain officers because it offers lower pay than nearby departments.

The new contract would raise the starting salary to $45,489.60, from $35,484.80 in the previous contract, first entered in 2013. It would also give FOP members the option to opt into a health insurance plan with free premiums, including for family members, starting next July.

Mayor Greg Fischer said in a statement those changes are “necessary to have the most talented force possible – helping to retain good officers actively being courted by other agencies, and to draw more quality applicants, including more minority applicants.”

Ryan Nichols, president of the River City FOP, said the contract could help the LMPD with its recruitment and retention issues: With 1,100 sworn active officers, the LMPD has 100 fewer officers than it’s authorized for.

“We had to do things to address pay and benefits so we can recruit the best and brightest candidates from our local area, across the state and from across the country,” he said, noting LMPD wasn’t able to fill its last recruit class.

Sam Aguiar, a lawyer for Taylor’s estate, told WFPL News in a text message he understands and appreciates the need for the new contract, though he said he was thankful this was temporary. The contract doesn’t include some of the reforms Taylor’s family has been pushing for, and that the city has agreed to.

“We are hopeful and confident that the long-term contract, when negotiated, will properly compensate the officers for their tough jobs while also implementing needed changes to drug and alcohol testing, retention of citizen complaints and supervisor files,” he said. “And a permanent contract has to make it more reasonable to hold officers accountable for unacceptable conduct.”

In his statement Tuesday, Fischer reiterated a commitment to “reimagine public safety altogether.”

Fischer’s spokesperson, Jean Porter, pointed out some changes that made it into this contract.

“This contract includes the housing incentive program called for in the settlement with Breonna Taylor’s estate, and an ability for LMPD to suspend an officer without pay in a pending administrative investigation when there is unmistakable evidence of wrongdoing,” she wrote. “Other issues that were part of the settlement will be negotiated in 2021, per terms of the settlement agreement.”

Promises of reform

Nichols said he is open to further reforms, depending on what they are, including those negotiated as part of the Taylor estate settlement.

“Whatever they present, if it’s, you know, agreeable for members, then it’s obviously something we can do,” he said. Or if it’s something that we can get a different benefit in exchange for something, you know, that’s just general negotiating.”

He said he did not believe any of the proposed reforms would have prevented what he called “the Breonna Taylor incident.”

Taylor was shot and killed by police in her home during a late-night narcotics raid that was primarily focused on another subject who lived miles away. No drugs were found in her apartment. When police broke down her door after knocking, her boyfriend Kenneth Walker fired a shot at them, later saying he did not know they were police. Whether or not the police clearly identified who they were before using the battering ram is a point of continued controversy.

Last month, a grand jury indicted one of the officers involved in the raid, former Det. Brett Hankison, on wanton endangerment charges for bullets fired into a neighboring apartment. That came after an investigation by the office of Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron. Cameron said the two other officers Sgt. Jonathan Mattingly and Det. Myles Cosgrove were justified in shooting because they were acting in self-defense.

One of the proposed reforms is an early warning system which LMPD should have activated years ago — that some say could have flagged an officer like Hankison, who had a history of misconduct allegations.

Housing incentive

The proposed contract gives officers $5,000 toward the purchase of a home in certain low-income Census tracts, something Aguiar said he pushed for in the negotiations for the Taylor family settlement.

Nichols, the police union president, said it was a nice incentive and that LMPD has officers  living all across the city, though he did not see a specific benefit from officers living in neighborhoods where they work.

“I think officers should live in, you know, in the areas that they want to live in,” he said.

Josh Poe, a Louisville housing advocate and co-principal investigator with the Root Cause Research Center, said there’s nothing he likes about this incentive. He pointed to a report that recent research does not show police living where they work improves relationships between them and residents.

Not only that, he said Louisville is already well short of its needs in terms of affordable housing. And he’s disappointed that this is what came from months of protests calling for police accountability and defunding.

“Many of those Census tracts that are designated low-income…are actually targeted by developers,” Poe said. “So not only are we helping police buy homes, we’re helping police buy homes in gentrifying neighborhoods.”

Over the summer, Aguiar argued the city was motivated by a gentrification plan to go after Jamarcus Glover, Taylor’s ex-boyfriend, in ways that led to the raid in which she was killed. City officials denied that.

Amina Elahi is WFPL's City Reporter.