The DOJ’s investigation into Louisville police is almost here. The next mayor will deal with the consequences
Mayor Greg Fischer recently announced the U.S. Department of Justice is expected to conclude its investigation into Louisville's policing practices in “the coming weeks.”
But Fischer won’t be the one managing most of the outcomes of that investigation, because his term is up at the end of the year.
A year and a half ago, the DOJ initiated what’s called a “pattern or practice” investigation into the Louisville Metro Police Department and city government. Federal investigators are looking at use of force incidents, training materials, union contracts and more to determine whether LMPD engages in discriminatory policing. They’ve also looked at whether the department conducts unreasonable stops and searches, as well as its search warrant practices.
These types of investigation typically result in a consent decree, an agreement negotiated with the city to implement a slate of reforms and procedural changes. Consent decrees are overseen by a federal judge who ensures the promised changes are implemented.
It’s currently unclear whether a consent decree will be announced alongside the DOJ’s investigative findings or if, like in the cases of New Orleans and Baltimore, the decree will be negotiated over the course of the next year or two. What is clear is that implementing the reforms will fall on the next mayor, who residents will elect in November.
Candidates want the final report ‘as soon as possible’
In light of the 2020 racial justice protests and a record-breaking spike in homicides, policing reform and public safety have been the most talked about issues in Louisville’s mayor’s race.
Republican candidate Bill Dieruf frequently discusses the need for “community-oriented policing” while also vowing to crack down on “gangs and cartel leaders.” The term-limited Jeffersontown mayor draws a gloomy picture of the state of public safety in Louisville.
“A group of moms I met with said they can’t let their kids go outside and play because of stray bullets,” Dieruf said last month. “We have people afraid to go shopping because of the carjackings.”
Democrat Craig Greenberg released an eight-page public safety plan in January that calls for a “community-oriented police force.” The plan also includes investments in what he describes as the root causes of crime: affordable housing, mental health treatment and access to jobs.
But the next mayor of Louisville will also have to focus resources and attention on implementing dozens, if not hundreds, of reforms and tweaks to the police department. A consultant who previously worked on consent decrees in New Orleans and Baltimore told Metro Council last year that the city should expect to spend $8 to $10 million annually under a consent decree.
Asked Wednesday how a long list of mandated reforms would affect his public safety agenda, Greenberg said the consent decree would serve “as a framework.”
“My guess is that the types of actions and plans that I’m putting forward are very consistent with improving our approach to public safety in Louisville, so I’m confident we can do both,” he said.
Dieruf likewise said he believes a consent decree will complement his public safety plans, not overshadow them. In an interview with WFPL News, he said he looks at the DOJ investigation like an audit.
“As an accountant, what I’ve always said is, an audit is something to make you better,” he said. “You shouldn’t be fearful of it, you should look at it as something to incorporate into how you move the city forward better for the police department.”
Both Dieruf and Greenberg say they’ll abide by the consent decree, even if it's negotiated before the next mayor takes office in January. During separate press conferences this week, the two candidates also said they want the DOJ to release its findings “as soon as possible.”
Dieruf held a press conference on Tuesday in Jefferson Square Park across from Metro Hall, where he demanded city officials release “briefings and communications they’ve received” about the final report. He said he believes the investigation will be “a damning indictment” of the city’s Democratic leadership.
The park was the rallying point for racial justice protesters following the police killing of Breonna Taylor in March 2020.
“All people of Louisville, from the rank-and-file of the LMPD to those who protested against injustice, have a right to know these findings in regard to the long-term, systemic political mismanagement of LMPD and Louisville Metro Government,” Dieruf said.
He also said, without evidence, that Fischer planned to stall the release of the report until after the Nov. 8 election in order to help Dieruf’s Democratic opponent.
Fischer’s spokesperson Jessica Wethington responded with a written statement, saying the DOJ would “release their report when they are ready to do so.”
“We have not seen the report or any findings, and as has been shared with the public, the Mayor and the Louisville Metro Police Department have not waited on the Department of Justice to begin implementation of 150+ accountability and improvement measures,” Wethington added.
Greenberg, at his press conference Wednesday morning, called Dieruf’s claim that Louisville’s top officials are dictating to the DOJ when to release its findings “conspiracy theories” and “wild, unhinged allegations.”
“What I didn’t hear was any solutions or any actions,” Greenberg said. “I’m not focused on my opponent’s rants. I’m focused on solutions and actions to move Louisville forward in a new direction, to improve public safety.”
Greenberg, Dieruf and seven independent candidates are all vying to be the next mayor of Louisville Metro and, with that, the chief overseer of the city’s troubled police department.
This story has been updated.