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Louisville’s first community policing council convenes in Portland neighborhood

People sit at gray tables and chairs, listening to one man speaking in the middle of the room.
Sylvia Goodman
/
LPM
Frank Anderson, who lives in Louisville's Shawnee neighborhood, listens to Inspector General Edward Harness as he answers one of Anderson's questions at the city's first community policing council for Louisville Metro Police Department's first division at the Molly Leonard Portland Community Center.

The Office of the Inspector General is establishing a community policing council in each of the eight police divisions in Louisville. The councils will be self-governed and will make recommendations to Louisville Metro Police Department through the Civilian Review and Accountability Board.

In a meeting room of the Molly Leonard Portland Community Center, a couple dozen residents of the five Louisville neighborhoods that make up Louisville Metro Police Division One gathered. They came Tuesday evening for the city’s first community policing council meeting.

Over the next several months, Edward Harness, Louisville’s first Inspector General, will visit each of the Louisville Metro Police Department’s eight divisions to establish the community-based police reform committees.

According to Harness, the councils will eventually be self-perpetuating – led and organized by community members. They will meet regularly, learn about and discuss LMPD policies, and make recommendations to the department.

While the councils are not empowered by city statutes, Harness said their recommendations can be brought to police attention through the Civilian Review and Accountability Board, which oversees the Inspector General’s office and its investigations of police misconduct. The Inspector General’s office itself was created in response to the 2020 racial justice protests after the police killing of Breonna Taylor.

In other cities that have instituted such councils, Harness said the members eventually drafted legislation for the city council to institutionalize their work and give them review and recommendation powers independent of the Inspector General’s office. For now, the councils are empowered to make recommendations via the accountability board’s authority.

“Those would only be recommendations,” Harness said. “But what the community deserves is an answer for those recommendations, if they're going to be adopted or not. And if they're not going to be adopted, why not?”

Some attendees at the meeting Tuesday wondered at the effectiveness of these councils to affect change within the police department. That concern was only exacerbated by a conspicuous absence. No members of LMPD or police representatives attended the meeting.

Harness said that the morning of the meeting he met with LMPD leadership, who were noncommittal about their attendance. He said their absence from that first meeting was a surprise and a disappointment.

“I am surprised that the department did not want to take this opportunity to engage with the public and have a meaningful discussion about policy and reform,” Harness said. “But it won't affect our ability to move forward because we can do that independently.”

Lorenzo Tucker attended Tuesday’s meeting and said he was almost glad LMPD decided not to come because to him, it showed where the department’s priorities lie. Tucker also questioned whether the decision showed a rift between the department and the Inspector General’s office.

In a statement, LMPD officials said, “We appreciate the OIG’s efforts at implementing the measures he deems necessary to assist with moving forward towards ensuring constitutional policing and strengthening police-community relationships. LMPD welcomes input from the community and has hosted and participated in several community forums to hear the concerns of the citizens we serve. LMPD supports the OIG’s initiatives and the work of his office for a better Louisville. We look forward to more opportunities to continue working with community partners in the future.”

They did not elaborate on why an LMPD representative was not present at the meeting. Because of the absence, several agenda items planned for the meeting were canceled including a division crime report, an update on crime prevention programs and a talk on how to implement neighborhood watch programs.

Harness noted that the department’s relationship with the community has long been strained, and a new approach to community-oriented policing was called for in the U.S. Department of Justice’s report on LMPD’s constitutional violations. The DOJ’s 90-page report from March alleges a pattern of excessive use of force, unconstitutional searches and discriminatory policing targeting Black residents.

At least three of the recommendations outlined in the report touched on increased community engagement, community values and civilian oversight. The DOJ recommended the department “strengthen community engagement to address and prevent violent crimes.”

The report also recommended that LMPD and the city “open new channels of communication with residents” to learn about the impacts of the department’s unlawful practices and to incorporate their feedback on “LMPD’s policies, training, and enforcement priorities.”

Frank Anderson also attended the meeting and is from Louisville’s Shawnee neighborhood. Anderson said he had initially supported LMPD Interim Chief Jacquelyn Gwinn-Villaroel, but that their nonattendance at the first council meeting was a concern.

“The mayor and the police department work for us. The Metro government works for us. We don't work for them,” Anderson said. “And it's up to us to speak out and let them know just how we feel. And then the real key is, when the time comes, we can vote them out.”

Tuesday night’s meeting is the first of many. Harness organized a meeting in each of the eight police divisions over the course of the next several months.

  • 8th Division: June 22, 6-7:30 p.m. in Berrytown/Adaptive and Inclusive Recreation Center at 1300 Heafer Rd.
  • 2nd Division: July 13, 6-7:30 p.m. in Southwick Community Center at 3621 Southern Ave.
  • 7th Division: July 18, 6-7:30 p.m. in Wilderness Road Senior Center at 8111 Blue Lick Rd.
  • 3rd Division: August 8, 6-7:30 p.m. in Sun Valley Community Center at 6505 Bethany Ln.
  • 6th Division: August 17, 6-7:30 p.m. in Newburg Community Center at 4810 Exeter Ave 
  • 4th Division: September 14, 6-7:30 p.m. in Beechmont Community Center at 205 Wellington Ave
  • 5th Division: September 19, 6-7:30 p.m. in Douglass Community Center at 2305 Douglass Blvd

Harness also said the groups will be self-perpetuating once they are solidly established. At the Division 1 meeting, several attendees said they would be willing to attend monthly meetings moving forward.
Harness said his office would be willing to help the councils with administrative work like reserving meeting space or preparing agendas. People who want to join and help lead the councils but are unable to attend the initial meetings can call the Inspector General’s office at 502-574-5555 for more information.

Harness said that he would hope to also hold regular summits where all of the different councils would come together and discuss their shared problems and propose solutions for the entire city.

Anderson said he plans to attend the meetings for every single police division. He said he knows each division has its own concerns and visions for equitable policing.

“I'm hoping we can all come together to be one cohesive family because… I feel that we all need each other one way or the other,” Anderson said. “These different entities work for us. The police department is no different than the dog catcher or the garbage collectors or the people who maintain the parks. They all work for the citizens of the city of Louisville. And as we are their employers, they ought to act accordingly.”

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.