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Critics urge Louisville Metro to open police chief search to the public

 Greenberg stands by microphone in front of blue curtain, Kentucky flag
J. Tyler Franklin
Louisville Mayor Craig Greenberg made transparency a cornerstone of his campaign last year

The Louisville branch of the NAACP and other local groups are criticizing the city’s secretive process for selecting a new police chief.

LPM News first reported last week that Mayor Craig Greenberg’s administration was refusing to provide the names of people who applied for the top position at the Louisville Metro Police Department.

The administration said they also won’t identify finalists for the job. Major cities like Chicago, St. Louis and Cincinnati name finalists and allow the public to weigh in on final selection. Officials said Louisville’s closed hiring process provides privacy for candidates and "ensures the highest quality pool of candidates."

Raoul Cunningham, president of the Louisville NAACP, released a statement Sunday night asking Greenberg to reconsider his approach. During an interview, Cunningham said officials must disclose finalists and allow residents to ask them questions in a public forum.

“This appointment will be one of, if not the, most important decision he will make during this term in office,” he said. “If he proceeds as he has indicated, it will further the gap of distrust of the police department and the city with the overall community.”

Cunningham said Greenberg is failing to live up to his promises to voters to make the Louisville Metro Police Department the “most transparent” department in America.

“I think it is absurd that you would campaign on transparency in 2022, and in 2023 you’ve already closed the door,” Cunningham said.

The Louisville NAACP joins other local groups and government transparency advocates demanding Greenberg open up the police chief search.

The 490 Project, a local police accountability group, told the Courier-Journal last week that the secretive hiring process was reminiscent of how former Mayor Greg Fischer’s administration operated. And Louisville Urban League CEO Lyndon Pryor said he wants to see the community have an active role in the hiring process.

“LMPD has done so much in the dark,” Pryor told the paper. “To shroud this process in secrecy further highlights the lack of transparency and deepens distrust.”

These groups also criticized Greenberg earlier this year for choosing to keep contract negotiations between the city and the police department secret.

The Greenberg administration argues the city is required by state law to keep the names of applicants private. But Amye Bensenhaver, head of the Kentucky Open Government Coalition, has said that’s not true. Bensenhaver, a former assistant attorney general, said the city is only required to balance the importance of public disclosure against the privacy concerns of job candidates. In this case, she said, the public’s interest in holding city officials accountable outweighs the other concerns.

“The circumstances here are such that the public's interest is magnified, is more substantial, given we’re in the midst of a crisis in public trust and [there is] a strong commitment to getting the best candidate in there,” she said in an interview last week.

Critics argue that without knowing who the other candidates are, there’s no way to tell whether the Greenberg administration will choose the best person for the job.

Louisville’s next police chief will take over at a critical time for the department following a U.S. Department of Justice investigation that found a pattern of officers violating peoples’ rights and discriminating against Black residents. The chief will oversee the implementation of dozens of mandated reforms under a consent decree. They’ll also be responsible for repairing community trust.

Greenberg recently announced the hiring committee for the police chief job will include a representative from the ACLU of Kentucky, a state lawmaker and the head of the local police union. The committee members, who have signed non-disclosure agreements to ensure they don't leak information about candidates, will provide Greenberg with feedback ahead of a final decision.

Louisville’s next police chief is expected to be announced by the end of the month.

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