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LMPD Chief, Union President At Odds Over New Traffic Stop Policies

As he detailed upcoming changes to the Louisville Metro Police Department's standard operating procedures related to traffic stops, Chief Steve Conrad said there wasn't a single incident that led to introducing new policies to govern traffic stops. But many of the changes hearken back to what happened when police pulled 18-year-old Tae-Ahn Lea over for an improper wide turn last August.

Police body cameras captured the encounter in a video that's now been viewed more than a million times on YouTube. Its release led to public outcry and a Metro Council hearing.

In that stop, the officers took Lea out of the car, frisked him and placed him in handcuffs, even though he wasn’t under arrest. They also used a canine to search the vehicle.

The new policies, which go into effect on August 1 to allow for a training period, are intended to reiterate to officers that their leaders expect them to conduct stops without bias, Conrad said.

The changes include specifying that a person being nervous or being in a high-crime area — as Lea was — does not justify an investigative stop. The same standard will apply to pat-downs and to instructing a person to sit on the ground.

And if officers use a canine to indicate probable cause for a search, a lieutenant will review body camera footage of the stop. All the specific changes are available to read online.

Conrad said the police need to make the community feel they’ve earned the public’s trust.

"If our officers are talking to people and treating people the way they want to be talked to, the way they would want to be treated, I think you can at least come away from that interaction feeling like you've been treated fairly," he said Friday. "The vast majority of stops have that outcome. But we're looking to improve those outcomes."

The new training, which will be developed and administered in house, will start within two weeks. Conrad said the department's current training is effective, but there's room for improvement.

"It is good. That doesn't mean that we still don't still have issues with people and the decisions that they make," he said.

When asked how LMPD would measure the success of its new training, Conrad said the department would review feedback and complaints from the community and officers and adjust in response.

Mayor Greg Fischer responded to the changes in a video on Friday afternoon, saying he was pleased Conrad and his command staff were introducing the changes.

"These changes should strengthen [LMPD's] efforts by signaling that police take community concerns seriously and they're serious about building community trust," he said.

But Nicolai Jilek, president of the River City FOP Lodge 614, characterized these community concerns as merely opinions.

"It is the vague language — that seems to put the community's opinions and...concerns of eliciting negative attitude towards law enforcement before officer safety — that worries and concerns me," Jilek said at a press conference Friday.

Jilek said he believed the bulk of the policy was written by people who aren't familiar with the dangers of "real-life policing." He said anything that slows an officer down in the course of split-second decision making could put them in danger.

The FOP was not consulted in drafting the changes, Jilek said. But he said he is open to meet with Conrad and his staff to share officer's concerns.

Following the spotlight on the Lea incident, Jilek said officers have been more apprehensive to make routine stops. And as policy changes come to light, he is urging officers to use caution.

Reporter Jacob Ryan contributed to this piece.

Amina Elahi is LPM's City Editor. Email Amina at aelahi@lpm.org.

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