Metro Louisville

A Louisville Metro Council committee on Wednesday discussed two measures that aim to bring added accountability to and oversight of the Louisville Metro Police Department but never put the proposals to a vote.

One measure would create a civilian review board and Inspector General position within city government, entities that would be tasked with reviewing and investigating complaints against police officers. The other measure is a nonbinding resolution urging city officials and police union representatives to agree on a policy that would mandate drug and alcohol tests for officers involved in critical incidents.

The council’s seven-member bipartisan public safety committee debated for an hour about training requirements, job qualifications and which agencies would have a say in filling the review board. The meeting was scheduled for an hour and ended before any vote was taken.

“I can’t tell you how disappointed I am in my council members,” said councilwoman Paula McCraney, a District 7 Democrat who helped craft the civilian review board ordinance. “I’m heated.”

Both measures followed a summer of unrest in Louisville sparked by the police killing of Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old Black woman who LMPD officers fatally shot in her home in March. 

Civilian Oversight

As the protests started in late May, a group of city officials, community leaders, lawmakers, criminal justice experts, advocates and others began meeting to hash out a structure for civilian oversight of LMPD.

McCraney co-chaired that work group. She said the public safety committee’s efforts to change elements of the ordinance amounted to a railroading of the legislation.

“They don’t want this to pass,” said McCraney, who is not a member of the council committee.

The ordinance would abolish the Citizens Commission on Police Accountability and replace it with the Civilian Review and Accountability Board. 

The new review board would comprise 11 people appointed by the mayor and approved by the Metro Council. The Louisville Urban League, the local branch of the NAACP, and the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky. Numerous law enforcement groups would be able to recommend members for appointment under an amendment made by councilman James Peden, a District 23 Republican, Wednesday afternoon. 

The groups can only recommend retired or former members of law enforcement for the board, not current police officers. Only one former officer would be able to serve at a time.

“I think this board and the (Office of Inspector General) is very important, so we don’t have police policing themselves,” said Councilman Bill Hollander, a District 9 Democrat, during Wednesday’s meeting.

Board members would be required to complete 16 hours of training on “basic legal and constitutional issues in policing,” per the ordinance — spanning handcuffing, de-escalation, implicit bias, use of force, and more. Additionally, members will be required to accompany officers during patrol on both day and night shifts for a total of 40 hours over five days annually.

The board would be tasked with reviewing closed internal police investigations into police shooting cases and “incidents involving loss of life due to police action,” according to the ordinance. The board would also recommend changes in police training, police, and procedures. 

Inspector General

The new civilian review board would have oversight of the newly created Inspector General for LMPD, and would select which complaints the Inspector General would investigate.

The Office of Inspector General would have its own budget and be separate from other city agencies. The Mayor would appoint the Inspector General, with approval from the Metro Council, to serve up to three four-year terms.

The Inspector General would not be required to have law enforcement experience, but a background in law, criminal justice, or investigations is preferable, according to the ordinance. The position would have subpoena power and authority to investigate any complaint related to any action of the LMPD and the public that results in serious injury or death, abuses of police authority, excessive use of force, discrimination or sexual misconduct, according to the proposed ordinance.

City employees will be required to cooperate with the Inspector General by providing access to documents, records and any other information necessary to investigate police, according to the ordinance. 

This, combined with subpoena power, could give the Inspector General authority to have a meaningful impact on police oversight, said Dennis Kenney, a professor in the department of criminal justice at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

“If they are to have real impact then they have to possess real investigatory power which means they have to be able to compel those involved to talk to them; and do so truthfully,” he said. “Often, however, incident investigation is hamstrung by union contracts and, at times, state laws that limit access during investigations. Simply creating citizens’ boards does little to overcome those hurdles.”

Before Wednesday’s meeting adjourned, committee chair Jessica Green, a District 1 Democrat, pledged to schedule a longer special meeting next week to allow time for the committee to work through any more debate.

McCraney welcomed the chance for the ordinance to advance out of the committee.

“And then it will go to the full council and I hope the entire council will see the work that is involved in this,” she said. “This is some good legislation.”

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