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DOJ, Louisville officials provide insight into ongoing police reform negotiations

Assistant U.S. Attorney Jessica Malloy, center, speaking with Louisville residents during the DOJ community meeting Monday night.
Roberto Roldan
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jessica Malloy, center, speaking with Louisville residents during the DOJ community meeting Monday night.

In public meetings this week, city officials and representatives from the U.S. Department of Justice explained how they plan to reach an agreement to transform the Louisville Metro Police Department.

The DOJ and Mayor Craig Greenberg’s administration are negotiating a consent decree to reform Louisville Metro police following a sustained pattern of misconduct.

The decree will be the end result of a nearly two year-long DOJ investigation, which found LMPD engaged in a pattern of excessive force, constitutional violations and discrimination against Black residents, among other things.

The report highlighted incidents in which officers threw slushies at random pedestrians, repeatedly struck a woman in the face with a flashlight and said things during trainings that other officers considered racist and offensive.

A federal judge and an independent monitor will oversee the city’s progress on implementing the changes to policies, training, data collection and more.

While neither party offered a concrete timeline for when they plan to have a final agreement ready to sign, Greenberg’s Chief of Staff David Kaplan told Metro Council’s Public Safety Committee on Wednesday that negotiations “will take a significant amount of time.” Kaplan noted it took 10 months to get an initial draft and begin negotiations.

“We all wish it was a shorter process than it is, but it’s a process that has to be gotten right,” he said.

Kaplan said the final consent decree could easily be over 100 pages long. Initial recommendations called on LMPD to improve its training around First Amendment protests, make it easier for residents to file complaints against officers and require consistent use of body cameras.

“You saw the 35 recommendations for remedial measures that the Department of Justice put in its findings report,” Kaplan said. “Imagine 20 or 30 paragraphs further fleshing out every single one of those things.”

Metro Council members grilled Kaplan and LMPD representatives about the lack of transparency over negotiations. Many residents expressed a similar frustration at a community meeting hosted by the DOJ on Monday.

There was little communication from the DOJ between when the agency released its report last March to when Greenberg announced the city was presented with a draft agreement last month. At that time, Greenberg refused to release the draft publicly, saying the DOJ requested confidentiality.

Asked whether the Greenberg administration could request the DOJ waive confidentiality, Kaplan said it wasn’t “a negotiable item.”

“The issue came up and the answer from the DOJ was that the negotiations will be kept confidential,” he said.

City officials did provide some insight into who is at the negotiating table. Kaplan said only representatives of the Mayor’s Office, LMPD and the DOJ are participating. The police union, as well as community groups, have not been allowed in the room.

The process ahead

Once a final agreement is reached, it will be entered into federal court and a judge will be assigned to the case. The city will then put out a call for applications to find a qualified person that can serve as a third-party monitor, ensuring compliance with the consent decree.

Representatives of the DOJ gave their own perspective on the negotiation process and took feedback from residents Monday night at the YMCA on West Broadway. Residents and attorneys spoke in small groups, sitting in seats arranged in circles.

DOJ officials assured residents that picking a monitor will be a public process. Attorneys said they aren’t sure if there will be additional community meetings about the consent decree, aside from a virtual meeting scheduled for April 16.

Jessica Malloy, an assistant U.S. attorney in Louisville, said the DOJ is keenly aware the content of the consent decree is important to the community.

“We understand and appreciate that this is not just solving a dispute between the Department of Justice and the city or the police department, that there are individuals' lives, that our public safety is involved in this,” Malloy said.

She said there will be regular reports from the third-party monitor about the city’s progress toward meeting reform once a final decree is entered in court. These reports will include data on LMPD actions.

Some residents, like Monica Thomas, expressed skepticism about the DOJ's promise to reform LMPD and how they plan to accomplish that goal. Thomas, a long-time resident of west Louisville, said she doesn’t think the issue is training. In her view, the problem is the department’s culture and societal racism.

“This is systemic and institutionalized,” Thomas said. “So when you’re going from city to city attempting to eradicate that, it’s not working because we’re not having the real conversation.”

Thomas also urged the DOJ to consider including protections in the agreement for officers to report colleagues who are a danger to the public.

“They ride with these guys and gals, they know who the racists are, they know who’s doing the excessive force,” she said. “But the atmosphere in the police department does not allow them the comfort zone to say, ‘Oh, Johnny is bad.’ … It’s that code of blue.”

DOJ Deputy Chief Paul Killebrew said Thomas wasn’t the first to grill him about whether the DOJ can force a “culture change.” Killebrew said he believes police departments evolve through having high-quality training, clear policies and constant accountability.

“When you develop the clarity that methodically, when you develop the structure that carefully, by the time you get to this last phase of holding people accountable, there’s just no other way to do it,” he said. “It becomes obvious when you see the police department fail to hold an officer accountable.”

Fostering this culture of accountability, Killebrew said, will ultimately have to come from LMPD leadership.

What reforms can residents expect?

DOJ officials and city leaders have so far provided few specifics on what reforms they plan to include in the consent decree.

Killebrew told residents Monday that civilian oversight will “absolutely” be a part of it.

In 2020, following the police killing of Breonna Taylor, Louisville Metro Council created a new civilian review board and an Office of Inspector General to investigate resident complaints against officers and review internal investigations into police shootings. The board and inspector general can only make recommendations to the chief, who is still solely responsible for discipline.

LMPD has also charted its own reform path in recent years, using federal COVID-19 relief to set up an Accountability and Improvement Bureau in 2022. On Wednesday, Deputy Chief Paul Humphrey also highlighted the department’s recent restructuring of its training department and its creation of a Force Investigation Unit. That unit will help train officers and supervisors on legal requirements around use-of-force and standardize investigations, Humphrey said.

The terms of the consent decree will reflect agreed-upon solutions to other issues the DOJ found with how LMPD operates:

  • Excessive use of force, including unreasonable use of dogs and tasers
  • Unlawfully executing search warrants without knocking and announcing
  • Unlawful street enforcement activities
  • Unlawful discrimination against Black people
  • Violating peoples’ First Amendment right to be critical of policing
  • Discrimination against people with behavioral health disabilities when responding to them in a time of crisis

At Monday’s meeting, Killebrew touted a new city department in Albuquerque, New Mexico called Albuquerque Community Safety, which he said helped them to improve their response to people experiencing mental health crises. Albuquerque entered into a consent decree with the DOJ in 2014.

Louisville Metro recently expanded a similar 911 deflection program to cover mental health crisis calls around Jefferson County.

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

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