Metro Council seeks to broker cooperation between police, independent investigator
Louisville Metro Council members are exploring ways to ensure cooperation between the police department and the city’s fledgling Office of Inspector General, following complaints that independent investigators are being stonewalled on documents and interviews with officers.
Four council members, all Democrats, recently introduced an ordinance that would spell out the expectation that the Louisville Metro Police Department hand over complaints and unfiltered information to the Inspector General. At the same time, elected officials are meeting with the two parties to try to come to an agreement.
District 7 Council Member Paula McCraney, one of the sponsors, said the legislation would make several changes to the 2020 law that created the Office of Inspector General. The hope is to alleviate LMPD’s concerns and allow progress on independent investigations into police shootings and misconduct.
“We now have an independent person looking at the facts,” she said, of the Inspector General, Edward Harness. “That just ensures the public that the police are not the only ones policing themselves.”
As drafted, the new ordinance would require LMPD to provide any complaints against officers to the Civilian Review and Accountability Board and the Inspector General within three days of receipt. It would also clarify that the independent bodies will conduct administrative — not criminal — investigations.
The legislation has not received a committee hearing and Metro Council is not expected to vote on it until next year. McCraney said the ordinance sponsors are waiting to call it up in committee until talks between the police, city officials and the Inspector General move forward. Those conversations could produce changes in the proposed legislation.
Harness became Louisville’s first Inspector General in November 2021. Since then, he’s complained that the police department is refusing to hand over unredacted body camera footage and incident reports. He’s also said some officers refuse to sit for interviews, despite assurances by outgoing LMPD Chief Erika Shields that the department would fully cooperate.
McCraney, who was instrumental in creating both the Board and the Office of Inspector General, said she’s grown frustrated with LMPD’s lack of cooperation. She said Monday that she doesn’t see a reason why police can’t cooperate with investigations as things currently stand. But she sees value in improving the legislation governing LMPD’s relationship with the Inspector General.
“If there’s an issue, let’s be adults and work out the issue,” she said. “It doesn’t have to be stalled.”
Angela Ingram, a spokesperson for LMPD, said in a statement Monday that the department is working with the Inspector General “to navigate these issues and establish investigatory parameters.”
Even though the Inspector General and civilian review board do not have the power to make arrests or conduct criminal investigations, Ingram said LMPD is concerned with protecting officers’ constitutional rights if they face criminal charges.
“Chief Shields cannot legally compel an officer to give a statement against him or herself in a criminal investigation,” she said. “To do so would violate the employee’s constitutional rights.”
The proposed ordinance would explicitly state that the Office of Inspector General conducts administrative investigations.
For his part, Harness said he is open to making that clear in the law, but he doesn’t believe the change will make any substantive difference.
“My personal opinion is that the language of the [existing] ordinance was strong enough, especially when you consider that no one can compel anyone to violate their Fifth Amendment rights,” he said.
Harness said his office currently has multiple ongoing investigations into police misconduct, as well as the high-profile shooting in Shawnee Park in July. Although he expects the office to complete its first investigation early next year, Harness said other investigations can’t move forward while LMPD is refusing to cooperate.
“There are a couple that we can’t conclude without conducting some officer interviews,” he said. “The interviews, at this point, are not targeting any officer for a violation, but simply as witnesses and background information to make sure the investigation is complete and fair.”
Information sharing agreement still pending approval
LMPD and the Inspector General’s Office are working on an information sharing agreement for unrestricted access to body camera footage and police reports. LMPD officials have claimed the documents independent investigators want contain sensitive information compiled by FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services.
It appeared the draft agreement was set to be approved by Kentucky State Police last month. But Harness said KSP has since inserted itself into the negotiations and has demanded changes.
“There are other provisions that we’ve had to review and change,” he said. “The process has evolved.”
A spokesperson for KSP did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
As the legislation seeking to resolve the disputes between the LMPD and the Inspector General moves forward, Harness said he has his own proposals for Metro Council. One of the biggest, he said, is requiring Louisville’s police chief to respond to the recommendations of the Civilian Review and Accountability following an investigation, “so that it doesn’t just go off into infinity.”
“We don’t want to make a recommendation and then nothing ever happens with it, because there’s no requirement to report acceptance or non-concurrence or anything else,” Harness said.
Metro Council President David James, District 4 Council Member Jecorey Arthur and outgoing District 9 representative Bill Hollander are also sponsoring the proposed ordinance.
In a recent interview with WLKY, James said he doesn’t think that the changes LMPD is requesting should be necessary when both the police chief and the inspector general report to the mayor. He’s said he’s hopeful Mayor-elect Craig Greenberg will take charge of the situation when he takes over from Mayor Greg Fischer next month.
LMPD will be under new leadership then, with deputy police chief Jacquelyn Gwinn-Villaroel stepping in as interim chief until Greenberg selects someone permanent for the position.