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The DOJ hears community input on the future of policing in Louisville

Members of the newly formed People's Consent Decree Coalition gathered in Jefferson Square Park with a banner reading "End Police Violence. Black Lives Matter."
Sylvia Goodman
Members of the newly formed People's Consent Decree Coalition gathered in Jefferson Square Park to deliver their demands for the consent decree that will govern reforms within Louisville Metro Police Department.

Public community meetings begin in Louisville as the Department of Justice asks residents to reenvision policing in light of a scathing report about LMPD.

About two dozen people were split into small circles in the back of the South Central Regional Library in Louisville Tuesday evening. Department of Justice facilitators sat among them, taking notes and asking questions as Louisvillians discussed issues like police accountability, community buy-in, and implicit racial biases.

They were participating in one of four public community meetings the DOJ is holding in Louisville this week with the guiding question: “What does better policing look like to you?” The effort to gather the community’s input comes as the DOJ and Louisville Metro Government work to write a consent decree.

After the DOJ released its damning report on the Louisville Metro Police Department in March — uncovering unconstitutional uses of force, faulty search warrants, and other police misconduct — the city agreed to create the decree, which is a legal agreement overseen by a judge, to reform the police department.

Debra O’Bannon, who attended Tuesday’s meeting, was a police officer at Jefferson County Police Department before it became LMPD, and quit due in part to the culture and racism from other officers. She said she doesn’t put all her faith in the DOJ and their agreement with the city, but she does have faith in the community members who will fight to enact change based on the report’s findings.

“Right now, Louisville is on a trampoline. And I think we're bouncing our way up to where the type of forward city that we present ourselves to be and we should be. Our city shouldn't just be a city that looks good at Derby,” O’Bannon said. “Our community is a very inclusive and a very good community. And we need to have a government and a police department that represents what the citizens are.”

One of the main issues O’Bannon honed in on regarding the department is a lack of accountability. She said as the grandmother and great aunt to three Black men, she has seen “some monstrosities” occur toward them. In O’Bannon’s experience, much of the aggression and racial bias comes from a place of fear and ignorance of the communities officers serve.

“You have been allowing to have police from a different community that had a bad rep come to the community, and they have no buy-in in the community. And so therefore, they just do whatever,” O’Bannon said.

Leslie Jones-Burks attended Tuesday’s meeting by chance, hearing about it while doing some notary work in the library. She said she has had her own negative experiences with police as a family member of a victim and decided to attend.

Jones-Burks said she hopes to see community involvement throughout the administration of the consent decree so it’s more than just “words on a paper.” She, too, said accountability was her biggest takeaway from the conversation.

“We can talk training, we can talk coaching all day long. But if no one's held accountable? You know, anyone can write down, ‘I did four hours of training, I had two hours of coaching,’” Jones-Burks said. “Accountability and supervision are just the biggest things here in Louisville. It's definitely lacking.”

On Wednesday, a new group called The People's Consent Decree Coalition announced their formation and demands for the consent decree. Gathering in Jefferson Square Park, which activists often refer to as Injustice Square, representatives stood behind a banner that read, “End Police Violence. Black Lives Matter.”

The coalition, made up of about 15 organizations, made several demands they described as “the bare minimum” for the consent decree. The demands, which the group said they’ve already discussed with the DOJ and hope to bring to the city and mayor in the coming days, include:

  • Public acknowledgement of a toxic culture within the department.
  • Community member involvement in the DOJ negotiations, not just in public comment meetings.
  • Clear timeline with expectations.
  • No new money for LMPD to address the consent decree and an audit of previous spending.
  • Investments in housing, transportation, public recreation and other community resources.
  • Release of the names of officers, supervisors and judges referred to in the DOJ report.
  • Community observers in Fraternal Order of Police contract negotiations.
  • Subpoena power for the Civilian Review and Accountability Board.
  • Elimination of all charges related to the 2020 protests.

The coalition also called on Mayor Craig Greenberg to respond to their demands. Celine Mutuyemariya, a member of the coalition and the organizing director of the Black Leadership Action Coalition of Kentucky, said the money LMPD has received until now has been used “to oppress us and to abuse us.” Mutuyemariya said that though the DOJ report may have substantiated a number of accusations against the police department, it reflects what Black community members have said for years.

“To the city, we can talk to you, we can work with you all if you're willing to listen to us,” Mutuyemariya said. “The problem is that you're never willing to listen to us. And you always prioritize the needs of LMPD over community. And it has to end if we're going to see any change in the city.”

There are several more public comment meetings over the course of the week, as well as one more on Monday.

Sylvia is the Capitol reporter for Kentucky Public Radio, a collaboration including Louisville Public Media, WEKU-Richmond, WKU Public Radio and WKMS-Murray. Email her at sgoodman@lpm.org.