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U of L professors release report on the history of policing in Louisville

Catherine Fosl, a professor emeritus at the University of Louisville, sits looking at the camera.
J. Tyler Franklin
Louisville Public Media
Two Louisville Metro Police Department cruisers are parked under an overpass in Louisville.

A recently released report on the history of policing in Louisville found "an entrenched pattern of institutional harm committed by the police" on Black and marginalized communities.

LPM News spoke with one of the authors of a new report on the history of policing in Louisville, Catherine Fosl. She's a professor emeritus with the University of Louisville and authored the report with two other U of L professors, Felicia Jamison and Siddhant Issar.

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Bill Burton: The Department of Justice not long ago released a report investigating local policing from 2016 to 2021. Your report, though, has a much larger scope than just those five years. You and your coauthors examined local policing from the earliest days of the city to today. What do you consider the most important takeaway?

Catherine Fosl: As a historian who has written quite a lot on the Black Freedom Movement, I was nonetheless struck by the frequency and consistency of the reports of police mistreatment of marginalized communities, and especially the Black community because that is really... we looked especially at that issue, we spend a lot of time in Black newspapers. I might have known this intellectually, but I'm not really a historian of policing. That was not a topic I had written on, except as part of larger social movement activities. But even the vast gap between the reporting you saw in Black newspapers and the reporting you saw in the Courier Journal, for instance, prior to the equal rights laws of the 1960s, and even really, possibly a decade after was quite striking.

Catherine Fosl
University of Louisville
Catherine Fosl, a professor emeritus at the University of Louisville, was one of the three authors of the study on the history of policing in Louisville.

BB: This report was originally backed by the truth and transformation initiative from Louisville Metro Government, but Metro slowly backed away from the reports. What happened?

CF: You will have to ask them for the full story of what happened. What is the case is that some aspects of our research never happened. There were listening sessions we were to have had access to recordings from. Those did not happen. There was a move to have LMPD open their own records for us, that did not happen. And ultimately, our representative from Louisville Metro let us know that the Metro government would like to have the report basically eight months earlier than we had originally agreed to give it to them. So that did obviously curb what we were able to do. Why that happened, exactly? I really don't know. I mean, one thing that did take place was that the conversations, and I guess the the establishment of this Truth and Transformation Initiative took place when Greg Fischer was still the mayor. And then that, you know, obviously we had this change in administration. So I'm assuming it's something to do with that. But I really don't know.

BB: Despite not having the city government support, you've finished and released the report regardless, what are you hoping the report might accomplish?

CF: Well, as we say in the introduction, we do believe that public safety in Louisville, even as a concept really needs to change to be more inclusive of all of our residents. And so we hope that once people are able to see that history in its overall scope, that it will motivate that kind of change.

Kevin Trager, a spokesperson for Mayor Craig Greenberg, said in a written statement saying they completely disagreed with Fosl's assertion the administration backed away from the report and lacked support for the research.

"Metro Government commissioned and paid for the report," the statement read, in part.

Trager said the city is currently reviewing the findings.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to include comments from Mayor Craig Greenberg's office.

Bill Burton is the Morning Edition host for LPM. Email Bill at bburton@lpm.org.

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