Metro Louisville

Despite calls to “defund the police,” Louisville Metro Council approved a budget for the 2022 fiscal year that includes increased spending on public safety as well as raises for police officers, firefighters and EMS.

The more than $650 million operating budget will go into effect July 1. All but Council members Paula McCraney (D-7) and Brent Ackerson (D-26) voted to approve the budget. Mayor Greg Fischer announced the details of his proposal in April and, for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic hit, it included spending on new programs. In 2019-2020, the city’s operating budget was about $615 million.

“This was the first budget in a long time where we’ve actually had some resources to spend and not just cut, cut, cut,” Fischer said at the time.

Activists called for Louisville Metro Police Department to be stripped of some of its funding and for it to be redistributed to social services and other needs. But Fischer said the proposal was “not practical,” a sentiment shared by members of Metro Council. Some of them voted to set aside an additional $9.3 million for public safety employee raises in addition to the $6.2 million for police raises in Fischer’s proposed budget. Metro Council also approved an amendment increasing funding for the city’s ShotSpotter gunshot detection system in the California and Park Hill neighborhoods to the tune of $620,000.

A 2019 investigation by the Kentucky Center for Investigative reporting found Louisville police rarely investigated alerts from the ShotSpotter system.

The 2022 budget includes millions new spending on public safety services, including:

  • $550,000 for the Group Violence Intervention program, which got $350,000 through mid-year budget adjustments in the current budget
  • $763,500 to fund the new Office of Inspector General and Civilian Review Board
  • $2 million for the Office of Youth Development
  • $600,000 for a reconciliation program to improve police-community relations, which was previously earmarked for reviving the Synergy Project initiative

Following the police killing of Breonna Taylor and subsequent mass protests for racial justice, local activist groups like Black Lives Matter Louisville proposed pulling $50 million from LMPD’s budget. The department is currently allocated nearly $200 million, roughly a third of Louisville’s entire operating budget.

Shauntrice Martin is a West End resident working with Black Lives Matter Louisville. At a press conference ahead of Thursday night’s budget vote, she said LMPD should not be rewarded for “hurting Black people.” 

Martin added that the money could be better spent on the library system, the Office of Safe and Healthy Neighborhoods, and other city departments that have asked Metro Council for more funding during budget negotiations this year.

“All of these departments that could help us prevent crime in the first place are begging for money,” Martin said. “What we want is for [Metro Council] to endorse the invest/divest budget, and take $50 million away from LMPD and put it in social services, put it in places like the West End, put it into food justice, put it into public works that really need money.”

But with a record number of homicides in 2020, some Metro Council members felt more funding was needed, especially to address police officer pay. 

Metro Council Budget Chairman Bill Hollander (D-9), who voted in favor of an amendment to set aside money for police raises, said the city is losing officers at too high a rate and needs help with retention.

“We’re unable to hire them with competitive salaries, even competitive with some of the suburban cities in Louisville Metro,” Hollander said after the committee vote on Monday. “No one who wants a quality police force should be happy about that.”

Millions More In New American Rescue Plan Spending

Louisville Metro Council also approved a plan for how to spend more than $32.5 million in new federal coronavirus relief.

The vote marks the first time the city will dip into the more than $390 million it expects to receive over the next two years from the American Rescue Plan Act. The initial ARP spending plan includes almost $20 million for continued vaccination outreach, contact tracing and eviction diversion and prevention. Health officials said the money will help fund the programs through the fall, when COVID-19 infections may spike.

Fischer originally proposed to set aside nearly $10 million for the city’s economic recovery, including more $5 million for Louisville Tourism to promote downtown, $500,000 for events in that area. Metro Council’s Budget Committee stripped those items from the spending plan. A $3.4 million line item for increased police patrols of downtown also garnered controversy.

Councilmember Jecorey Arthur (D-4) criticized that proposal during a meeting earlier this month.

“We have hundreds of comments from people who do not feel more safe with the presence of police, whether it’s LMPD or other means,” Arthur said. “So we are talking about safety in the opposite direction of the way they feel.”

Metro Council voted to amend the plan, removing the $3 million for police patrols and directing $1 million to “safety ambassadors.” Those workers would be tasked primarily with keeping certain areas of Louisville clean, but would also be cross-trained in public safety.

The ARP spending plan also includes investments in programs that address the ongoing impacts of the pandemic on low-income residents:

  • $5 million for utility assistance
  • $1.5 million for childcare and safety supplies
  • $1.6 million for suicide prevention and substance abuse treatment
  • $250,000 for emergency food distribution

City officials have stressed that this initial spending plan only covers immediate needs, and decisions about how to use the vast majority of the funding will be made in collaboration with the public. Fischer’s administration unveiled a new website earlier this month where residents can give their proposals for how to spend the federal dollars.

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