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Louisville police, Inspector General reach information sharing agreement

Louisville Metro's first Inspector General, Edward Harness, sitting in his office in City Hall.
Louisville Metro's first Inspector General, Edward Harness, sitting in his office in City Hall.

After complaints by Louisville Metro’s Inspector General about the police department withholding information in officer misconduct investigations, the two parties have reached an agreement on sharing information. 

Neither party agreed to share details of the agreement until it gets final approval by Kentucky State Police. 

Metro Council created the Office of Inspector General in 2020, a move Mayor Greg Fischer proposed after outrage over the police killing of Breonna Taylor reached national prominence. Edward Harness was appointed to the Inspector General role late last year and oversees the work of the Civilian Review Board, which was created at the same time, and a handful of investigators who vet complaints about police misconduct. 

Harness told WFPL News this week that his office has reached an agreement with the Louisville Metro Police Department, through which the police department would provide his office open access to body camera footage and electronic records. 

“The agreement is currently at the Kentucky State Police for their signing of the document and then that will remove that hurdle,” he said. 

In September, Harness told LEO Weekly that LMPD Chief Erika Shields had not signed the memorandum of understanding he drafted, after more than two months. He said LMPD was failing to meet the letter and the spirit of the ordinance that created his independent office. 

“Now the rubber is meeting the road so to speak, and we are running into issues with gaining the level of access that was requested in the letter, which previously had not been objected to,” he said in September.

Louisville police spokespeople said the Inspector General’s Office was requesting access to sensitive information compiled by the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services. Inappropriate use of that material, the department said, could cause them to lose access to important tools. 

“CJIS is central to an agency’s efforts, whether running wanted checks on individuals for active warrants, criminal history checks for employment purposes, checking cars for being stolen, etc.,” representatives for the department told news outlets. “CJIS information is, by definition, available to qualified employees of a law enforcement agency and violation(s) of CJIS protocol by an individual can compromise the entire agency’s access.”

Aaron Ellis, a spokesperson for LMPD, confirmed late Wednesday that the department is waiting on KSP’s approval. Ellis declined to share details of the agreement, but said it would be subject to open records requests once finalized. He said the department has “been cooperative” and would continue to be.

According to Harness, gaining access to body camera footage and electronic reports has been the biggest roadblock to completing the investigations already underway. Since the Inspector General’s Office began work in June, they’ve opened half a dozen investigations into police misconduct complaints. They’re also looking at the high-profile police shooting in Shawnee Park in July

Harness said his office has also struggled to get cooperation from some police officers who may have witnessed misconduct. He chalked that up to being a relatively new agency.

“Change is a difficult proposition,” Harness said. “Certainly, there’s an attitude that exists in law enforcement that, ‘How is it a non-sworn person can come in and evaluate how I do my work?’ But, fundamentally, the community has a right to determine how it’s policed.”

He added that some officers may still question whether his office will be fair in conducting investigations and recommending disciplinary action.

Harness is himself a former law enforcement officer, serving as a police officer in Milwaukee, Wisconsin for six years before becoming an attorney. Prior to coming to Louisville, Harness was the director of the Civilian Police Oversight Agency in Albuquerque, New Mexico. 

Residents of Louisville Metro can file complaints against police officers directly to the Office of Inspector General through an online form. Guidance on how to file a complaint is available by phone at (502) 574-5555.

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