Community

A group of Louisville citizens will soon have the chance to examine, scrutinize and make recommendations to the way the Louisville Metro Police Department recruits and trains officers.

Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer and Deputy Police Chief Michael Sullivan detailed the intent of the soon-to-be-formed Citizen Advisory Board at a news conference Thursday morning.

The board will consist of about a dozen residents from across the community, Sullivan said.

“From clergy, to people involved in training businesses, to people from educational institutions, to critics of the police who have concerns of what our training actually is,” he said.

Advisory board members will be selected by the head of the police department’s training division, Sullivan said. They’ll be tasked primarily with reviewing police department training protocol.

“They’re going to look at curriculum we use in training, our recruitment and selection methods and be able to give us input and share concerns,” he said.

The lack of specificity regarding what, exactly, the advisory group will be tasked with examining within the police department’s training policy concerns Jon Shane, an assistant professor in the department of Law, Police Science and Criminal Justice Administration at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

Shane is an expert in police policy and practice, and said citizen advisory groups need clear mandates about what needs to be done and the issues that need to be resolved.

“You’ve got to have clear goals, set due dates, you’ve got to task people with things,” he said.

Shane said the people selected for the board need some understanding of the concept of police work, the law and the criminal justice system, in general.

“If they don’t, then all you’re going to be left with is a very facile group of people who don’t know whether they should speak up or whether what is being given to them is legal or not legal, they won’t have any idea,” he said.

Carolyn Miller-Cooper, director of the Louisville Metro Human Relations Commission, expects the Citizens Advisory Board to be of benefit to the city, as the dynamic of police and community relationships is changing,

“The more input, the more interaction, the more communication, the better,” she said.

Louisville Metro Councilman David James, chair of the council’s public safety committee and a former Louisville police officer, said he applauds the efforts to involve more citizens in the process of policing.

“I think the police department is aware of the deficiencies in training they currently have and I hope, and suggest, they try to find ways to accommodate for that,” he said.

James said the police department could improve training related to defensive tactics, specifically non-lethal forms of defense, and foot patrols.

“If we never teach officers how to do foot patrols, how to interact with people and walk up to a stranger sitting on their porch, how likely are they to do it,” he said.

Fischer said he hopes the Citizen Advisory Board will assist the city’s police department in improving initial interactions with residents.

“That sets the tone for the rest of the interaction,” he said.

Kate Miller, spokeswoman for the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky, said establishing the Citizen Advisory Board is “a good first step” to improving the strained relationship between police and communities.

“We’re eager to see what policies come out of this…and who will end up on this advisory council,” she said.

Deputy Chief Sullivan said the advisory board will be assembled by the end of the year. Once finalized, it will exist alongside a handful of boards meant to provide oversight of the police department.

Current police oversight boards include a Police Merit Board, which examines recruit applications, as well as the promotion, demotion and disciplinary actions related to police officers; a Youth Police Advisory Council, which holds six meetings with police chief Steve Conrad to discuss crime, safety and the police department, in general; a Citizen Commission on Police Accountability, which is tasked with examining closed police investigations in all police shooting cases and incidents involving loss of life due to police action.

Advisory boards also exist for individual patrol divisions.

It’s A System

The new advisory board comes in the wake of the launch of other initiatives and programs aimed at reducing violence and improving relations between police and the community.

Louisville Metro Police officers have for months been hosting community meetings and, more recently, police leaders have been walking neighborhoods in an effort to engage residents and form relationships.

And city officials have introduced programs like One Love Louisville, My Brothers Keeper, Right Turn, Pivot To Peace and ReImage, which are all focused on engaging young people and reducing violence.

Fischer said the array of city-sponsored initiatives is necessary because the recurring issue of violence is “so large.” He wouldn’t say which program he’s most confident in, but rather said “it’s a system, and that’s why there’s a lot of different initiatives.”

He also praised the police department for equipping each patrol division with body cameras. The department began rolling out the near $3 million body camera program last year. To date, officers in each of the department’s nine divisions, including it’s traffic division, are wearing body cameras.

Louisville Metro Police Major Robert Schroeder said the department’s SWAT Team and canine unit have not yet been equipped with body cameras. He cited “technological reasons” for the delay.

He said there is no resistance from the SWAT team related to wearing the cameras.

“We have to get it to where we are transparent with the public on what the SWAT team is doing, while at the same time protecting the tactics the SWAT team uses,” he said.

Fischer alleged the body cameras have led to a reduction in citizen complaints against the police department. Yet, as we reported last year, before Louisville officers began wearing the cameras, citizen complaints against Louisville Metro Police officers have been on the wane since 2010, according to information from the department’s Professional Standard Unit.

There were nearly 80 percent fewer citizen complaints against the police department in 2014 compared with 2010. And in 2015, there were six less citizen complaints than in 2014.

The number of Chief initiated complaints, however, have increased since 2014, police department data show.

In the first half of 2014 the department’s Professional Standard Unit investigated 21 complaints initiated by Chief Steve Conrad. In 2016, the unit investigated 40 such complaints.

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