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Two Kentucky cities, two approaches to recruiting and retaining police

Acting Louisville Metro Police Chief Paul Humphrey
Louisville Metro Police Chief Paul Humphrey and Lexington Police Department Chief Lawrence Weathers spoke to state lawmakers on Tuesday.

On Tuesday, the Louisville Metro police chief and Lexington police chief discussed their successes, setbacks and challenges with state legislators.

Louisville and Lexington police chiefs told lawmakers Tuesday they are competing with other public safety agencies to retain officers.

Lexington police officers are leaving for higher pay and better benefits, Lexington Police Department Chief Lawrence Weathers told the Interim Joint Committee on Local Government on Tuesday.

“One of the biggest challenges Lexington Police Department has encountered is staffing,” he said.

To combat the shortage, Weathers said the police department is providing more mental health resources to its officers and recruiting more new officers.

In Louisville, Acting Chief Paul Humphrey says they are increasing officer pay and access mental and physical health resources to increase retention.

“If we expect to put out a quality product, we have to pay people at a quality rate,” Humphrey told lawmakers Tuesday.

The Lexington Police Department

Weathers told the committee the city is seeing a decrease in violent crime, but they still don’t have enough officers to properly staff the police force.

According to reporting from the Lexington-Herald Leader, the Lexington Police Department experienced the largest officer shortage in 2021. The department was 104 officers short. Last year, the department had 87 vacant positions, according to a report from WKYT.

Now, Weathers said the Lexington Department is seeing an increase in officer applications. This year’s recruitment program is expected to have more than 1,000 applicants, Weathers said on Tuesday.

The Lexington Police Department credited state legislators for helping increase overall recruitment. Last year, state legislators passed SB 89, allowing the Lexington Police Department to rehire retired officers for a one-year term with retirement and health benefits. The Kentucky House also passed HB 380, which allows 20-year-old Kentuckians to be hired in law enforcement as long as they will turn 21 by the time they finish basic training.

While recruitment numbers increase, Weathers said the officer shortage is in part due to a lack of retention. Lexington Police officers are leaving the department for better benefits including mental health resources, more personal time off and other financial incentives, he said.

“We're also competing with [public safety agencies and] private entities that offer competitive salaries, and less public scrutiny and safer working conditions,” Weathers said. “Over the past several years, we have experienced other public safety agencies recruiting officers with 20 plus years of experience, taking away personnel with vast amounts of knowledge and experience.”

To combat the lack of retention, Weathers said the department has hired a full-time mental health professional that serves all police department employees.

Louisville Metro Police

While Lexington’s police department focused on bringing in more officers, Humphrey honed in on the internal improvements LMPD made to retain its officers.

With the new police contract, a Louisville Metro police officer will make $66,000 a year in their first year by 2026, Humphrey said. That's a 46% pay bump from 2021.

He said the pay increase is meant to compete with other public safety agencies and “the private sector” that tends to recruit LMPD officers.

“We have to make sure that officers are compensated in ways that can be competitive,” Humphrey said.

The city’s police force was short more than 200 officers as of April, though Humphrey did not mention the current shortage in the hearing.

Humphrey said LMPD has also invested more into mental and physical health resources for its officers. He said he credits the Summit Wellness Center clinic for providing officers with mental and physical health resources.

The facility opened last year, and it's meant to provide the city’s first responders with top-of-the-line physical therapy, financial counseling, and family support services, according to a report from WAVE 3. Humphrey also said LMPD has hired a full team of mental health professionals to serve its officers five days a week.

While Lexington police told the committee crime is down, Humphrey told lawmakers that violent crime remains a challenge for the city.

“Crime — particularly violent crime and gun crime — in Louisville is not at a level where it's even close to acceptable,” Humphrey told the committee.

Humphrey said juveniles are a growing population of violent repeat offenders. LMPD has also seen an uptick in gang violence, Humphrey told the committee on Tuesday.

Giselle is LPM's breaking news reporter. Email Giselle at grhoden@lpm.org.

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