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Louisville officials reach agreement on independent police misconduct investigations

Ed Harness, center, speaks at a wooden lectern with the Louisville Metro seal on the front. Mayor Craig Greenberg is behind to his right and police chief Jacquelyn Gwinn-Villaroel is behind to his right. The silhouettes of two audience members, from behind, are in the foreground.
Roberto Roldan
Louisville Inspector General Ed Harness, center, speaking at Tuesday's press conference.

Louisville Mayor Craig Greenberg announced an information sharing agreement Tuesday between the city’s police department and Inspector General.

The announcement came after months of negotiations between the two parties and less than a week after the U.S. Department of Justice issued a scathing report about discriminatory policing and civil rights violations within the Louisville Metro Police Department.

Metro Council created the Office of Inspector General in 2020 in the wake of the police killing of Breonna Taylor. It investigates resident complaints against officers filed to LMPD or the Civilian Review and Accountability Board. It also investigates all shootings by police. While the office currently has about a dozen open investigations, it has yet to complete even one.

Inspector General Ed Harness told LPM News on Monday a lack of access to raw police data and body camera footage, along with some officers’ refusal to provide witness testimony, have been major investigative roadblocks. He said the new agreement balances the needs of independent investigators with officers’ rights under Kentucky law and the collective bargaining agreement between the city and police union.

“We had to fit all three of those things in,” he said. “I think the [memorandum of understanding] is going a long way toward improving our relationship.”

Greenberg announced the agreement Tuesday alongside Harness and Interim Police Chief Jacquelyn Gwinn-Villaroel.

The agreement outlines a process for investigators in the Inspector General’s Office to obtain access to unredacted police reports, data and body camera and surveillance camera footage. The 11-member Civilian Review and Accountability Board must first approve the investigations.

Officers will also be compelled to provide witness testimony to independent investigators. If they fail to do so, LMPD’s Special Investigations Commander and the chief will be notified.

Gwinn-Villaroel said Tuesday that she’s willing to discipline officers who refuse to participate in Inspector General investigations, but she said she doesn’t think it will come to that.

“My officers are wanting to do what’s best for the department and for the community,” she said. “So, I’m going to put myself out here and say I got faith in them, that they will do what is in the best interest of moving these processes along.”

Under the agreement, officers who have been accused of misconduct will have the same rights afforded to them by Kentucky’s Police Officer Bill of Rights. That includes the provision that an accused officer can’t be forced into an interrogation within 48 hours of an incident.

Gwinn-Villaroel said the agreement also assures officers that the Inspector General’s Office conducts administrative, not criminal, investigations. Any information obtained during officers’ interviews with OIG investigators cannot be used as evidence in criminal cases.

The DOJ report released last week found LMPD has engaged in a pattern and practice of discriminatory policing, excessive use of force and other civil rights violations. The 90-page document also contained 36 recommendations, including strengthening civilian oversight of the police department.

Over the coming months, the city is expected to negotiate with the DOJ over a roadmap for reform, otherwise known as a consent decree. A federal judge and an independent monitor will oversee Louisville Metro’s progress in implementing those reforms.

Greenberg said the agreement shows Louisville Metro is committed to transparency and reform, and it isn’t waiting on a final deal with federal officials.

“We are taking action,” Greenberg said at Tuesday’s press conference. “Today’s announcement will strengthen the community’s trust in LMPD and enhance [the department’s] transparency.”

LMPD and the Office of Inspector General started negotiating the information sharing agreement last year. During that process, Harness did not shy away from expressing his frustration with police officials.

Last December, Harness told a reporter from WLKY that LMPD was “an organization that's acting like they have something to hide.”

Harness said negotiations began moving forward with a larger sense of urgency after Greenberg took over from former Mayor Greg Fischer in January. Gwinn-Villaroel also replaced former Police Chief Erika Shields.

With the new agreement in place and the DOJ’s recommendation to strengthen civilian oversight, Harness said he thinks the OIG will have a “significant role” in policing reform in Louisville.

“We will be doing much more than just investigating complaints,” he said. “We’ll be examining policing, we’ll be looking at data and we’ll be engaging with the community and facilitating communication between the community and [LMPD].”

Harness said the OIG plans to host monthly community forums in each of the city’s eight police divisions this year.

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

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