Metro Louisville

A Metro Council committee has recommended a controversial short-term labor contract that would raise salaries for Louisville Metro Police, clearing the contract’s first hurdle toward passage.

Critics say the contract fails to incorporate appropriate accountability measures; the full council will consider the measure on Thursday.

The council’s labor and economic development committee members voted 4-3 on Monday to recommend approval of the contract with the River City Fraternal Order of Police.

Members of Mayor Greg Fischer’s administration reached the contract agreement with the FOP in early October, but progress on its ratification stalled soon after when some council members voiced concerns about it.

By Monday, committee members said they still have some concerns but that the proposed contract was a slight improvement. The previous contract has been renewed repeatedly since it expired in 2018.

Keisha Dorsey (D-3), was one of three Democrats to vote against the measure in committee. The other two were also Black women. She said the pay increase is important — “but at the same time, we’re doing that, to me, at the cost of telling the public to wait on their issues, while putting forward the issues of our current police department.”

Dorsey said by passing the contract, the council would be asking community members to wait for the next contract, next year, for reforms or accountability measures.

Committee chair David Yates (D-25) said the choice was between passing a slightly better contract and living with the existing one for longer. He repeatedly emphasized the agreement was negotiated by the administration, and said the council’s role is simply to pass it or not.

“Our only decision today and in the next council meeting will be to vote yes, in the affirmative, which means they will operate under this new contract,” Yates said. “If we vote it down, they operate under the existing contract.”

But council member Brent Ackerson (D-26), who does not sit on the committee and did not participate in the vote, suggested a third option: table the resolution ratifying the contract.

“I think that we do have a third option here and that’s just everybody get back to the table,” he said.

Most council members who spoke during the meeting said they supported higher pay for police officers, whose salaries currently start at about $35,000 and could rise to about $45,000 under the new contract.

Interim police chief Yvette Gentry said higher pay and more generous benefits are necessary tools for recruiting good officers. She pointed out that LMPD was not able to fill its last recruit class due to the quality of applicants.

“If somebody’s willing to put their life on the line for this city for less than $40,000, what is my recruiting tool if I can’t give them more than that and at least a decent insurance plan, because I’m not sure what my recruiting tool is,” she said.

The vote followed nearly two hours of public comment during a virtual hearing in which dozens of Louisville residents participated. Some spoke in favor of the contract, saying police take great risks to protect the community, deserve a raise, and the department needs to offer better pay to attract and retain good officers.

Dennis Hanna spoke in favor of the police contract, saying the vast majority police officers work tirelessly to protect the community.

“It is wrong for the Metro Council to try to hold this contract up because they want more reforms,” Hanna said.

He said, in his opinion, reform is not be achieved with an “iron hand,” but rather with humility and both sides meeting for a common good.

Many of those who spoke in opposition of the contract pointed to specific sections of the contract, including aspects of the disciplinary procedures, and the state-mandated 48-hour delay in interrogating officers for alleged procedural violations as well as a ban on layoffs, both of which were included in the previous contract.

Another concern, which was echoed by some members in the committee meeting, was that the administration and FOP would not be able to reach a long-term contract by the end of June 2021, when this proposed contract would expire. Those groups committed to begin negotiations in January.

Rachel Hardy spoke to this issue during the public hearing, saying the parties involved need to be held accountable.

“How can we count on next summer that these reforms will be put in place?” Hardy said. “I don’t have confidence in that, and I don’t have the confidence in the LMPD or the FOP or the mayor.”

The city agreed to push for key reforms to the FOP contract as part of its record settlement with the family of Breonna Taylor, who was killed by police in March, and those would be part of the 2021 negotiations.

Amina Elahi is WFPL's City Reporter.