Louisville Police Chief Announces Retirement In Wake of Breonna Taylor Shooting Outcry
Louisville Metro Police Chief Steve Conrad will retire at the end of June.
The announcement from Mayor Greg Fischer’s office came in the wake of intense scrutiny of Conrad’s management of the department following the national attention focused on the fatal shooting of 26-year-old Breonna Taylor since last week.
“Being your Chief has been the highlight of my 40-year career in law enforcement,” Conrad wrote in an email to LMPD employees on Thursday.
“You all are weathering a lot right now and I know how challenging this is. Approach this as we approach all our struggles – as a team. Look out for each other. Show compassion to the community, even when it might not be shown to you. And remember what a privilege this job is,” he wrote.
The statement from Fischer’s office said he has asked Colonel Robert Schroeder to serve as interim chief of LMPD until a search for a permanent chief gets underway.
Minutes before this announcement, the FBI said it is opening its own investigation into Taylor’s death. She was killed by police during a drug raid. The officers involved were placed on administrative reassignment. Taylor’s boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, was charged with attempted murder of a police officer after he fired at and struck one officer in the leg. His lawyer said he was acting in self-defense.
Civil rights attorney Ben Crump, who is representing Taylor's family along with local counsel, responded to the news in a statement Thursday. He described Conrad's retirement as a significant step in the pursuit of justice.
"We look forward to further investigation, including by the FBI, into the chain of events that led to Breonna’s tragic and preventable death," he wrote. "It is our expectation that the next Chief of Police will be someone who wears the badge with honor, moves the police department forward, and nobly protects and serves the residents of Louisville."
Conrad led the department for eight years, and oversaw a series of scandals, including sex abuse by officers of teens working in the department’s Youth Explorer program, overtime mismanagement and controversial traffic stop policies that were changed last year.
Fischer described Conrad as a “respected colleague,” in the press release announcing his retirement. In a video released Thursday evening, Fischer congratulated Conrad on his retirement. He did not mention the circumstances surrounding it in that message.
Late last week, Fischer declined to say whether he had confidence in the chief.
In previous years, both the Louisville Metro Council and the police union have taken votes of no confidence to express their lack of support for Conrad.
Earlier Thursday, River City FOP 614 president Ryan Nichols said during a press conference, “over the course of time, I don’t think that opinion has changed.”
Conrad addressed various Metro Council committees this week regarding the department’s budget, overtime expenditures and the Taylor case.
During a meeting of the Public Safety committee Wednesday, Councilwoman Barbara Shanklin (D-2) criticized his inability to answer several questions.
“How do you run a department and not know what’s going on in the department?” she asked. “I know the buck stops with you being the Chief. So I don’t care what goes wrong, you’re going to be blamed for it.”
Earlier this week, Metro Council president David James (D-6), a former police officer, told WFPL he thought Conrad needed to resign.
Under Conrad, “the police department has lost a great deal of credibility amongst many people in our community. And it’s important to restore that credibility because public safety is the number one responsibility of government,” he said.
Councilwoman Barbara Sexton Smith (D-4) told WFPL earlier this week it was time for Conrad to step aside. She said several incidents occurred under Conrad’s watch that were each independently unacceptable.
“Forcing the entry into Brieonna Taylor’s home in the middle of the night and killing her whilst she awakened from asleep in her bed is the final piece to this puzzle that creates a picture that is very clear to see,” she said.
The organization Black Lives Matter responded by saying Conrad's departure is insufficient.
"While it's great to see Conrad go- this is not justice. He is allowed to peacefully leave his post while families and other residents terrorized by this police force have to be policed by murderers! We demand that ALL cops that have used murder as a use of force be fired," said Chanelle Helm, core lead organizer of Black Lives Matter Louisville in an email.
Reacting to the news on Twitter, Jecorey Arthur, who is a candidate for Metro Council District 4, criticized Conrad’s means of departure.
“This retirement is a cop out,” he tweeted. “The officers who killed #BreonnaTaylor need to be fired without pay.”
Arthur is a former employee of WUOL, which like WFPL, is a part of Louisville Public Media.
Councilman Kevin Kramer (R-11), who is the president of the minority caucus and vice chair of the Budget committee, said it was unfortunate that Conrad was leaving under these circumstances, and described him as compassionate. But he said the department is not in good shape, and that Conrad is responsible for its problems, which are not limited to the Taylor case.
He said what happened to Taylor was "heart-wrenching," and lamented how the police have treated African Americans during traffic stops.
Kramer also expressed frustration over what he saw as Conrad's unwillingness to request a larger budget or spend all of what council allocated to LMPD in recent years, which he attributed to a desire on Conrad's part to please Fischer by saving money. Conrad did the best he could, despite the constraints placed on him by Fischer, Kramer said.
"My hope is that when the mayor decides to hire a new police chief, he looks for someone who is going to be willing and able to say, if I'm going to do policing right in Louisville, this is what I need," Kramer said.
LMPD has lost so many officers -- for reasons including better compensation at neighboring departments -- that Conrad was forced to reorganize the department last year. That included combining narcotics and the 9th Mobile Division to create the Criminal Interdiction Division. Officers from that division served the warrant at Taylor's home on March 13.
This story has been updated.