Metro Louisville

Louisville Metro Council will vote Thursday night on whether to approve a new employment contract for police officers that includes the highest one-time pay increase in the department’s history. 

Mayor Greg Fischer announced late last month that his administration and the police union, River City FOP Lodge 614, had reached a new deal after the union’s members voted down the first tentative contract. In addition to raises, the new collective bargaining agreement includes some reforms aimed at making the Louisville Metro Police Department more accountable. Activists have criticized the reforms for not going far enough. 

Metro Council’s Labor and Economic Development Committee voted to move the contract toward a final vote last week. Committee members voted 5-0 in favor of the deal, with two Council Members, District 3’s Keisha Dorsey and District 5’s Donna Purvis, both Democrats, voting “present.”

Officials say it’s a good contract, but activists push back

If Metro Council approves the contract, rank-and-file officers would get a 15% raise over the next two years: 9% retroactive to July, and 3% next year. The starting salary for officers in July 2022 will be $52,561, compared to $45,489 right now.

They would also get a sizable one-time bonus because of what officials with Louisville’s Office of Management and Budget say was a mistake in calculating back pay. 

Monica Harmon, the city’s Director of Finance, said officers were provided with a new tool that automatically calculated back pay based on each officer’s tenure with the department. But that tool was programmed incorrectly, she said, and officers were told they’d get more money than the city agreed to. The issue wasn’t flagged before members of the police union started voting on the contract.

“The administration recognizes that the voting members relied on this, and thus we want to compensate them as such,” Harmon told Metro Council.

Officers will receive the amount the tool promised, meaning they’ll get one-time bonuses ranging from $1,800 to $2,500. That’s in addition to a $5,000 bonus they are eligible to receive for working during the pandemic. 

At the committee meeting last week, LMPD Chief Erika Shields said she believed the contract balances the need for increased pay to retain officers and attract recruits, with the reforms that are necessary to turn the department around. 

Shields said the proposed contract would require the department to keep informal complaints against officers for two years, up from 90 days in the current agreement.

“Whether it’s disciplinary or to provide intervention, counseling, what have you, you have to have a picture in front of you,” she said. “So if you’re destroying records at a rapid pace, you’re not going to be able to see that.”

Shields said the change would allow LMPD management to better identify officers who have a pattern of misconduct.

Other reforms in the proposed contract include:

  • Mandatory drug and alcohol testing after a critical incident, like a police shooting or serious car accident. If an officer refuses, they can be fired.
  • Investigators assigned to the Special Investigations Department, which conducts investigations of officer-involved shootings and citizen complaints, will be required to do 40 hours of training on “internal affairs policy, practice and legal considerations.”
  • A new program that will allow officers to volunteer while on the clock with a community group for up to two hours each pay period.
  • The union must recognize the independent Civilian Review and Accountability Board, created by Metro Council last year.

Activists and other community members have criticized the reforms, saying they don’t go far enough in light of the police killing of Breonna Taylor last year.

Members of the 490 Project, a grassroots advocacy group focused on Louisville’s police contracts, called on Metro Council to reject the contract at a public hearing last Monday. They’ve pointed to reforms they say are necessary for increased transparency and accountability, but aren’t in the new contract. That includes reforms like ensuring supervisor’s notes about officer’s performance and conduct be part of their permanent personnel file.

Abby Long, a member of the 490 Project, said the change to retain informal complaints against officers is inadequate.

“How can an early warning system be effective if we are destroying complaints every two years?” Long said. “I’m talking about the early warning system that LMPD has been touting since 2015, but when pressed on it, they say it’s not working.”

Other community members, like University of Louisville historian Catherine Fosl, criticized the opaque negotiation process. Activists pushed for contraction negotiations to be open to the public and for community members and Metro Council to have a seat at the table. Instead, Fischer agreed to keep negotiations closed.

“It’s a slap in the face to everyone who wants greater transparency, who wants greater accountability to have a process that is so enshrouded in secrecy and doesn’t allow for greater community input,” Fosl said.

Activist and Louisville mayoral candidate Shameka Parrish-Wright, along with advocacy groups like the ACLU of Kentucky and the Kentucky Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression have also criticized the proposed contract.

If Metro Council votes against the agreement Thursday night, it would have to go back for further negotiations with the police union. The 26-member body approved a nearly identical contract for LMPD leadership last month.

Roberto Roldan is the City Politics and Government Reporter for WFPL.