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Police Union's Criticism Of Chief No Surprise To Lawmakers


Some Louisville Metro Council members say it’s no surprise the police union is unhappy with department leadership.

The head of the River City Fraternal Order of Police penned a letter to Mayor Greg Fischer last week criticizing Louisville Metro Police Chief Steve Conrad, saying confidence in department leadership is "at an all time low."

Dave Mutchler, police union president, wrote that his members have been "disappointed over and over again" by Conrad's lack of transparency regarding administrative decisions.

"We cannot continue down the current path," he wrote, citing specific concerns with a lack of officers and Conrad's recent decision to dismantle the department's flex platoons despite heavy criticism from city legislators.

'The Word on the Street'

The concerns raised in the letter dated November 15 were nothing new to Councilman David James, chair of the council's public safety committee and a former police union president in Louisville.

James said he's long heard from disgruntled police officers frustrated with "what they perceive to be a lack of support from the chief's office."

These concerns have been swelling for about two years and stem from a need for more police officers and more financial incentives to attract new recruits, said James, a District 6 Democrat.

The letter from the police union, coupled with the city's surging crime rate, should lead city legislators and administrators to question "if the current police chief is the right police chief for right now," said James.

"That is something we should talk about," he said.

Councilwoman Julie Denton, vice chair of the council's public safety committee, said "the word on the street" is LMPD is "not a good place to work."

Morale is low among rank and file police officers who feel limited in their ability to maintain the public safety, said Denton, a District 19 Republican.

"This is the mayor's problem that he is going to have to resolve," she said. "In the end, the mayor is going to have to make some decisions."

In a statement, Mayor Greg Fischer said he supports Conrad and his recent reorganization of the department.
"Our LMPD officers do a fantastic job, and Chief Conrad has made changes to respond to the increases in crime -- getting the officers and resources to the areas that need them the most. Clearly, a different approach was warranted. This reorganization has only been in effect for two weeks and needs to be given a chance to work. We will always monitor how our systems work and we will continue to make adjustments to improve public protection."
The act of hiring or firing the police chief rests solely with Fischer, said Chris Poynter, a spokesman for Fischer's office.

Conrad is not currently under contract with the city, but rather "works at the pleasure of the Mayor," Poynter said.

Conrad Responds

Conrad was hired as chief in March 2012 after serving as chief of police in Glendale, Arizona. Before that, he spent 25 years working through the ranks in Louisville's police force, according to his bio on the city's website.

He's linked this year's increase in violence and crime to poverty, drug addiction and a lack of community support.

Conrad also said police have played a role in the surging crime.

“We’ve had opportunities to help people, we’ve had opportunities to send people on a different route, and they’ve ended up in a bad place,” he said in an interview in March of this year.

And on Tuesday, he responded to Mutchler's letter via Facebook.

"I was disappointed, but not surprised, to see the letter," Conrad wrote.

In the post, he didn't address Mutchler's concerns related to the recent disbanding of department flex platoons, but he defended efforts to increase the number of officers in the department.

"I plan to continue to do my job to the best of my abilities, which includes setting the strategic direction for this department, directing resources as needed to address violent crime, and holding people accountable to ensure they are doing all they can to serve this great community," he wrote.

Metro Council president David Yates said he, too, has known about the frustrations permeating within the police union. But he was reluctant to say if now is the time to re-evaluate Conrad's role as police chief.

"There will always be some headbutting on ways to lead and how to serve," he said. "At the end of the day, the real enemy is these gangsters, these murderers and this crime that's just exploding."

Conrad will address the Metro Council's public safety committee in December for the year-end update on police activity and crime.

Jacob Ryan is an award-winning investigative reporter who joined LPM in 2014. Email Jacob at jryan@lpm.org.