Investigations

The Louisville Metro Police Department will no longer knock on doors for federal immigration agents or talk about enforcement on non-recorded lines under a new policy implemented Friday.

The changes follows a story by the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting that revealed Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents were asking LMPD to serve local warrants, make traffic stops and knock on the doors of non-violent offenders wanted for immigration offenses.

The police actions ran counter to local officials’ public statements and the “compassionate city” marketing pushed by city hall.

In the wake of the report, Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer told Police Chief Steve Conrad to meet with ICE and clarify LMPD’s role in assisting the federal agency. Meanwhile, immigrants rights groups said blurry lines would make residents fearful of contact with local officers.

The new policy, announced Friday afternoon by the mayor’s office, makes clear that LMPD will continue to assist ICE agents on criminal or safety matters. But the policy seeks to distance police from ICE’s enforcement of civil and federal immigration laws and repair an already delicate trust between the LMPD and immigrants.

“This policy is a positive step that will make it clear to our officers how they should handle requests for help from federal immigration authorities,” Mayor Fischer said in a press release. “The news report pointed out a gap in our policies, and the chief acted quickly to address it.”

The change brings the LMPD’s policy in line with the way Conrad previously described his department’s assistance to ICE: that they only help if suspects are particularly dangerous or present safety concerns to officers or the public.

Conrad said Friday that he spoke with leaders from the Louisville ICE office earlier this month, a day after KyCIR’s story was published. Conrad said he laid out new parameters for when his officers would assist the federal agents after reviewing the calls cited in the article, He maintains his officers acted properly in 19 of the 23 instances, and noted that the policy wasn’t in place at that time.

“What’s important is the four calls really shined a light on the issue that we had,” Conrad said. “It was a gap… moving forward, our officers now have clear direction, which I had failed to provide them in the past.”

The new policy dictates:

  • A commanding officer will go to the scene before any officers assist ICE, with the exception of ‘officer in distress’ calls.
  • If an individual has a history of violence, being armed or presents a danger to ICE agents, the LMPD may respond “as backup only.” Officers should only secure the perimeter or observe, unless a public safety issue occurs.
  • Officers must fill out a form whenever they contact ICE. The form explains the nature of the communication, who the commanding officer was and whether body camera footage was recorded.
  • If an ICE agent contacts an officer directly for help, the officer must call a supervisor and call back on a recorded line to see if LMPD should assist.

KyCIR found five instances between January and June where ICE agents asked an officer in the area to call on his cell phone, and records don’t address what help LMPD offered, if any. On numerous instances, ICE agents asked LMPD officers to help knock on a door or clear a house.

Under the new policy, LMPD officers should not initiate contact with someone for the “sole purpose of assisting ICE in making contact.” Body camera footage and dispatch call records showed that ICE agents asked LMPD to come and help knock on doors of suspects they were planning to arrest for immigration-related offenses.

In one video, LMPD officers knocked on the door of a man ICE was pursuing while the federal agent waited a flight of stairs below. Federal agents later broke the man’s door down and arrested him, and his family was left confused about what role LMPD played.

LMPD officers will continue to serve local criminal warrants if ICE calls about them, but supervisors will be notified.

In this image taken from the Metro Council video feed, social worker Sofia Calleja implores leaders to enact sanctuary city policies.

Local activists have ramped up their push for making Louisville a sanctuary city in recent weeks, citing LMPD’s cooperation with ICE as one policy that needed to change for immigrants to feel welcome.

The mayor, police chief and staffers from the city’s globalization office met with representatives from organizations serving immigrants and refugees Thursday night in a meeting closed to the media.

Daniel Alvarez, a Louisville immigration attorney who attended the meeting, said it was a “good first step” in Louisville becoming a sanctuary city.

“I’m vigilant and optimistic that we can make some more changes in our community,” Alvarez said.

Jesús Ibañez, a member of Mijente Louisville, said changes aren’t as fast or plentiful as they’d like, but the city is moving in the right direction.

 

“The police chief and the mayor are hearing the community,” Ibañez said. “But I don’t want them to think by just doing this right now, the trust is going to be there. It’s going to take many concrete steps – not just a Twitter video.”

On the morning of the new policy, LMPD posted a video on Twitter declaring Louisville a “city of immigrants” and encouraging the community to call when they need help.

“Recently we have learned some members of our community may be reluctant to report crime for fear of being asked about their documentation status,” said Officer Vadim Dale, who works in LMPD’s public information office.

Several police officers of color then explained that they won’t ask about immigration status, and encouraged victims and witnesses of crime to contact LMPD — in English, save for a montage at the end where officers said in other languages, “if you need help, please call.”

Ibañez said the video seemed “like they’re trying to appeal to the English-speaking public” concerned about the policies more directly than the communities they impact.

Kate Howard can be reached at khoward@kycir.org and (502) 814.6546.

This story has been updated.

Kate Howard is a veteran investigative reporter specializing in government accountability and higher education issues.