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Police Chief Has Political Support Amid Spiking Violence

Spiking violence in Louisville is not shaking Mayor Greg Fischer's confidence in the police department's leadership.

Earlier this week, Fischer said any "knee-jerk" reaction to remove or replace key positions within the Louisville Metro Police Department — including the chief of police — would be "detrimental in the long-term."

"I have not seen any problems with our policies, our systems, our best practices that would make me stop and examine any personnel issues," Fischer said.

His comments come in the midst of what's shaping up to be one of the city's most violent years. To date, police are reporting about 40 percent more shootings than this time last year, which ended with the highest homicide count in nearly four decades.

Reports of robberies, aggravated assault and property crime are also higher this year than last year, police data show.

Metro Councilman David James, a Democrat who represents District 6 and is chair of the council's public safety committee, said police leaders should not pay for the city's struggle with spiking crime. James, a former police officer, said Chief Steve Conrad is working with "extremely limited resources."

"I would challenge anybody to do a better job with the resources he has," James said. "He needs to have more police officers, and until he gets more police officers, it's going to be hard for him to do a much better job."

Fischer's proposed budget sets aside funding to add about 40 officers to the police department. Still, James said LMPD is short officers. A 2015 staffing study found the department adequately staffed but recommended changing some personnel strategies.

Conrad took the helm of the city's police department in March 2012. He came from Glendale, Arizona, where he served as chief. His current salary of $175,100 makes him the city's highest-paid employee, according to a city salary database.

The average tenure for a police chief in a large city is about three years, according to the Major Cities Chiefs Association of North America, which represents those atop metro police departments.

An LMPD spokesperson did not respond to a question about Conrad's plan for the future and how long he intends to stay at the head of the city's police department.

Ronal Serpas, a professor at Loyola University of New Orleans and chairman of Law Enforcement Leaders to Reduce Crime and Incarceration, said removing a police chief during a crime spike may miss the root of the issue. He said such spikes aren't directly related to police leadership.

"The police are just one of the many actors," said Serpas, a former police chief in Nashville and New Orleans.

Chiefs and department administrators are only as good as their resources, he said, which depend on mayors and city councils. Serpas said it can take years for a police chief to enact his or her will at a department and address existing crime patterns. And during periods of spiking crime, it's imperative chiefs remain engaged and responsive to community needs, he said.

Politics, not policing, is usually the reasoning behind the ousting of a police chief.

"At the end of the day, mayors are responsible for the will of the community, and if they can't convince the community that the existing strategy is working, then I think they do have to make a change," Serpas said.

Councilman Bill Hollander, a Democrat who represents District 9 and is chair of the council's majority caucus, said he is "very comfortable" with Conrad's leadership.

"I think you have to look at what's happening in the police department, not just what the crime statistics are," he said. "I think he's doing a good job."

Councilman Kevin Kramer, a Republican from District 11 and chair of the council's minority caucus, said despite the spike in violence, he isn't ready to call for a change in police leadership. He is, however, ready for Conrad to answer some "tough questions."

"I want to know what Chief Conrad's plans are," he said. "There should be some answers as to what the plans are going to be to curb the violence we are seeing."

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.

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