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Louisville Metro Police Chief: FOP Letter Damaged Relationship With Community

The controversial open letter from the president of the local Fraternal Order of Police damaged the relationship between the community and law enforcement, Louisville Metro Police Chief Steve Conrad said.

"Absolutely," Conrad said on Monday evening. "I think we lost some ground because of that letter."

The letter sent last week by Sgt. David Mutchler included a section addressing "sensationalists, liars and race baiters" who criticized police and their tactics.

The letter sparked instant outrage. Activists took to social media and city leaders issued statements. Mayor Greg Fischer denounced Mutchler's letter,saying "this letter does not reflect the sentiments of me or the vast majority of Louisville citizens." A protest in response to the lettershut down a section of Jefferson Street in downtown Louisville Monday evening.

Now, Conrad said police will need to work to repair the damage caused by the letter.

"We have been trying to build partnerships and build bridges, and I think that has been damaged in certain situation and with certain people," he said.

In a press conference last week and in subsequent news reports, Mutchler maintains that not one police officer has reached out to him in disagreement about the letter's contents.

But Conrad said "there are officers that feel very differently about that letter."

Criticizing the union president can be difficult, Conrad said.

Conrad said he was a dues-paying police union member until he left Louisville to be chief of police in Glendale, Arizona, in 2005.

He said he "can't speak to the way things are today." But in 1983 he and a few  other officers spoke out in favor of city-county merger. Shortly after, a vote was held to determine if Conrad and the other officers should be booted from the union, he said.

"There was definitely a problem speaking out against the union, it's just part of the culture," he said. "But I can't apply that to today."

He also said it's difficult to disagree with the three key components of the letter--that Mutchler wanted to thank people who support police,  to send a message to criminals that police will continue to fight crime, and to say that criticism of police must be truthful.

"Beyond those three messages, some of the language that was used was perceived by many as threatening," Conrad said. "Many in the community found it as offensive."

Before Monday's meeting, Conrad met with Mutchler for more than an hour, "walking him through the letter" and pointing out the issues that arose from it, Conrad said.

He didn't speculate on how the department will respond to the list of protesters' demands made during Monday's demonstration. He said he has seen the demands, which includes creating a civilian review board with subpoena power and Mutchler's firing.

Conrad said he expects to be able to meet some demands, but others will likely not be met.

"At this point, we really haven't had the opportunity to talk about it," he said. "I am open to conversations about that list."

Jacob Ryan is the managing editor of the Kentucky Center for Investigative reporting. He's an award-winning investigative reporter who joined LPM in 2014. Email Jacob at jryan@lpm.org.