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Officials: DOJ-recommended police reforms will cost Louisville millions annually

Louisville’s top public safety officials told Metro Council Monday night that they expect policing reforms recommended by the U.S. Department of Justice to cost the city up to $10 million each year.

The DOJ announced in April that it was conducting an investigation into Louisville Metro Police Department to determine whether the agency had a pattern or practice of discriminatory policing and violating residents’ constitutional rights. The investigation is ongoing, but Metro Council asked leaders from the Louisville Metro Police Department and Mayor Greg Fischer’s office to provide a public update.

Matt Golden, Louisville’s chief of public services, said a final report from the DOJ, including recommended changes and reforms, is expected sometime within the next 12 months. Then, the city will negotiate next steps.

“These negotiations will result in some form of court enforceability, independent monitoring and assessment measures,” he said. “Their top priority is generally accountability, which will include policy and training changes, bias-free policing, use of force oversight and community engagement.” 

Golden said every DOJ investigation in the last decade has resulted in federal oversight of the police department. That oversight, and the reforms mandated by the federal government, is expected to cost the city millions in additional funding.

Danny Murphy, a police reform consultant hired by the city, provided a breakdown of what other cities investigated by the DOJ were now paying each year for the mandated reforms: $8 million in New Orleans, $6 to $11 million in Cleveland, $13 million in Los Angeles.

In Louisville, Murphy estimated reforms would cost $8 to $10 million annually.

What’s the money for?

The projections provided by the city’s DOJ response team include plans to hire new leadership positions, including an equity, diversity and inclusion officer, a training director and reform project managers. Louisville Metro also expects to hire full-time employees who can implement and monitor whatever reforms are mandated by the DOJ.

The $10 million estimate in annual costs for reform includes:

  • $3M for staffing
  • $2M for a reform monitoring team
  • $3M for technology upgrades
  • $1M for training, community surveys, studies and plans

Officials said it is unclear how much money the city will have to spend on legal expenses from DOJ negotiations and facility upgrades.

Lt. Col. Paul Humphrey, LMPD’s assistant chief, said the biggest undertaking will be creating and staffing a new “Accountability and Improvement Bureau.” Humphrey said the bureau will have a civilian leader and civilian employees who will work alongside police officers to implement changes.

“What you’ll see from top to bottom is a system that is going to catch [failures], that is going to give constant feedback, that’s going to change the way that we write policy,” he said. 

Humphrey said the bureau will be responsible for making sure new policies are in line with DOJ recommendations and conducting regular audits of case files, use-of-force reports and search warrants. 

“So we can get some real-time, consistent feedback on the quality of those reports and the actions we take,” he said.

Another recommendation city officials expect the DOJ to make is the creation of an “early warning detection system.” The system would identify officer behaviors that could lead to bigger issues down the road. 

At a meeting last month, Police Chief Erika Shields said officers flagged by the system would be offered training, counseling or other resources.

“So what are the early identifiers that should be viewed as red flags of ‘We may have a problem here,’ ‘We may need to be offering services,’ and what have you,” Shields said. “Let’s insert ourselves and get this on the right path.”

LMPD leaders previously claimedthe agency had an early warning system, even though it didn’t.

One of the biggest obstacles to implementing large-scale reforms, officials have said, is that LMPD lacks an up-to-date records management system, which would allow command staff to see real-time data on things like arrests and traffic stops.

Council members push back on cost

Golden, Louisville’s chief of public services, called the estimated cost of reforms “an investment in your city.” But some Metro Council members said they see it instead as the cost of inadequate city leadership.

“Taxpayers, as usual, get sacrificed at the altar of political incompetence, and that’s precisely what’s going to happen here,” said District 19 Metro Council Member Anthony Piagentini, a Republican. “At the end of the day, the people that elected us are about to take it in the wallet because of a failure of this administration.”

District 16 Council Member Scott Reed, also a Republican, voiced similar concerns about how the DOJ investigation will impact taxpayers. He also questioned whether the results of the reform would be worth the investment. 

Reed pointed to a study by the New Orleans Crime Commission that showedthe majority of residents feel the city is unsafe. He also pointed out that New Orleans, like Louisville and many other American cities, has seen a spike in homicides in recent years. The city’s police force has been under federal monitoring since 2011.

“New Orleans was raised as an example of where they had invested some $8 or $10 million each year, and I’m not seeing a whole lot of difference in the crime rate,” Reed said.

Other Council Members like Bill Hollander, a Democrat representing District 9, disagreed. Hollander said he liked what he heard from the DOJ response team, and urged every Louisville resident to get behind efforts to improve the police department.

“We should all want better training, we should all want better facilities, we should all want technology updates for the police department, we should all want a better police department,” he said. 

Hollander, who chairs the budget committee, said the city should use part of the remaining COVID-19 relief from the federal government to fund some of the reforms in advance of the DOJ’s final report. Metro Council agreed in August to make public safety a top priority for the estimated $340 the city expects to receive from the American Rescue Plan Act.

Shortly after Monday night’s meeting, Mayor Fischer announced plans to introduce an ordinance that would outline how nearly $262.9 million of the remaining funds will be spent.

Roberto Roldan is the City Politics and Government Reporter for WFPL. Email Roberto at rroldan@lpm.org.