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Council Committee Advances Police Chief No-Confidence Measure

A group of Louisville Metro Council members is continuing its call for a new police chief.

The council's public safety committee on Wednesday held a no-confidence vote for Louisville Metro Police Chief Steve Conrad. The seven-member bipartisan committee voted 3-2 to approve the resolution, which "urges Mayor Greg Fisher [sic] to ask for Chief Conrad’s resignation and open the selection process for a new LMPD Chief."

Two committee members were absent from the regular meeting.

The resolution is a non-binding measure that requires no formal action from Fischer.

Fischer, for his part, has repeatedly said he has no intention of removing Conrad from his post as the city's top cop. In a statement Wednesday, he called the vote a distraction.

"The best way to help fight crime is to stop pointing fingers and support the work and the plan of Chief Conrad and LMPD -- anything else is not helpful to our citizens that deserve all of our support," said Fischer.

'It's getting worse'

Since the measure is unlikely to lead to any action — why did the council committee take time to draft it, discuss it and vote on it?

The resolution, which is sponsored by a bipartisan coalition of council members, cites the basis of the resolution as multifaceted, including continuingviolent crime, low officer morale, an ongoing investigationof sexual abuse within the police department, a lack of transparencyon Conrad's part, and a controversial reorganizationof the police department made late last year at the behest of Conrad.

Violent crime in Louisville, specifically murder, has surged in recent years, according to police data. The city's homicide tally through the end of June is the highest it's been since 2013, per the data.

Despite this increase, Fischer and Conrad have recently touted a drop in overall crime. In fact, violent crime is down about five percent this year compared with last year and property crime is down about three percent compared with last year.

Still, the statistical spin falls flat for some residents and council members.

Cheri Bryant Hamilton, a Democrat who represents District 5 — an area largely afflicted by violent crime — said her constituents don’t feel like Louisville is getting any safer.

“In fact, they feel it’s getting worse,” she said.

And Julie Denton, a Republican from District 19, suggested police officials "manipulate" crime data and fail to show "true landscape" of district crime rates.

Councilman David James, chair of the public safety committee and a former police officer and president of the police union, said Conrad is a good person but not fit to be top cop.

"We have a community that is in trouble and we need to try something new in the form of a new police leader," James said.

While not a member of the public safety committee, Bill Hollander, chair of the council's majority caucus, said he'd vote against the measure when it comes before the full council for approval next week.

"I don't think a new chief can stop the scourge of drugs or the influence of gangs or restore hope among people that have suffered too long from lack of opportunities," he said.

'Really don't mean anything'

This is not the first no-confidence vote Conrad has faced in recent months.

Late last year, the River City Fraternal Order of Police, the local police union, held a similar vote in which98 percent of the some 600 members who cast votes said they lacked confidence in Conrad.

Dave Mutchler, head of the police union, didn't respond to a request for a comment then and he didn't respond to a request for comment regarding the most recent vote by the council committee.

LMPD has also not responded to a request for comment.

The hiring and firing of police chiefs is done solely at the discretion of the mayor. Conrad is the city’s highest salaried employee and not currently under contract. He is paid $175,000 per year, according to a city database.

Fischer called both votes a "distraction" from broader efforts to address violent crime. And some experts have dismissed such votes as futile.

Sam Walker, an author and expert on policing and police accountability, said the votes are, generally, symbolic.

“Votes of no confidence really don’t mean anything,” he said.

Darrell Stephens, head of the Major Cities Chiefs Association, said a no-confidence vote held outside traditional police unions is unprecedented.

"It seems a little like an overstep, to me," Stephens said.

He said he'd hope residents are "more thoughtful about the problems the city is experiencing and not transfer all the responsibility to one individual."

"It's disappointing a city council would take a step like that," he said.

Nicole Gonzalez Van Cleve, assistant professor in Temple University's Department of Criminal Justice, echoed Stephens in that such a vote is a rare move from a local legislative body.

But it's an interesting measure, she said, that could give the public a say "as to the types of police organizations they have in their communities."

"It seems like a way to have some level of public accountability in policing," she said. "Even if it is symbolic."

The full council will take up the measure during their regular meeting next week.

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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