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LMPD changes workplace harassment policy, still needs culture change

LMPD Interim Chief Paul Humphrey speaking at a lectern
Roberto Roldan
Interim Chief Paul Humphrey, center, took over the Louisville Metro Police Department after Jackie Gwinn-Villaroel resigned earlier this week.

Louisville leaders are promising significant changes to the police department’s policies around workplace sexual harassment after three women went public with allegations against fellow officers this month.

Louisville Mayor Craig Greenberg and Interim Police Chief Paul Humphrey want to take a multi-pronged approach to strengthening the department’s process for dealing with sexual harassment claims. On Tuesday, the Louisville Metro Police Department clarified its definition of harassment, instituted new training requirements, changed reporting protocols and expanded protections for victims.

Humphrey said it’s important to change policies and procedures, but not as important as changing the culture within LMPD.

“We are dedicated to creating a culture of respect, where every individual feels both valued and safe to do their job,” Humphrey said.

Leaders say they hope these reforms will create a better working environment at LMPD, one where victims are protected and perpetrators are held accountable. Policing experts, meanwhile, say that will take time and requires stable leadership, which LMPD hasn’t had since 2020.

‘LMPD is going to have a zero-tolerance policy’

On Tuesday afternoon, Humphrey sent out a special order to all sworn staff notifying them of changes to the department’s policy.

Under the new guidelines, sexual harassment are more clearly defined. They also include lists of behaviors that may constitute harassment, like unwanted sexual advances, “sexual jokes and innuendo” and “commentary about an individual’s body, sexual prowess, or sexual deficiencies.”

The new guidelines also make it easier for victims to prove sexual harassment, lowering the standard of proof from “severe or pervasive action” to any behavior that would unreasonably interfere with someone’s ability to do their job.

“Violations of these policies will be taken seriously,” Humphrey said at a Tuesday press conference. “The policy will reflect that the consequences for violations of these policies will be up to and including termination, if necessary.”

All officers and staff will be required to take a training course on the new policies.

LMPD also expanded how officers can report harassment and sexual misconduct. Previously, a victim would have to go to their supervisor and the report would work through the chain of command. Now, officers can report directly to the police chief, LMPD human resources or the department’s Special Investigations Division, which handles internal investigations.

Officers can go outside LMPD to lodge a misconduct complaint to the city’s human resources department, its ethics tip line or the Office of Inspector General.

And there are new measures to protect victims from retaliation.

Kevin Trager, Greenberg’s spokesperson, told LPM News victim support specialists will establish regular communication with officers who file harassment complaints.

“They will ask about any new or repeated issues with sexual harassment and retaliation,” Trager said in a statement. “Our hope is that establishing regular communication will ensure the reporting party feels safe to speak about additional concerns.”

Needed: Strong, consistent leadership

Many of LMPD’s changes match a model sexual misconduct policy the group End Violence Against Women International (EVAWI) released two years ago. That was created by two retired police leaders and an academic.

There are differences, though. While the model policy requires all agency personnel to report potential violations, LMPD’s new standard operating procedures only list supervisors as mandatory reporters. EVAWI also recommends departments screening job applicants for any history of sexual misconduct.

Carol Archbold, a criminal justice professor at North Dakota State University and faculty fellow at the Challey Institute for Global Innovation & Growth, has studied police misconduct for more than 30 years. A book she co-authored, “The New World of Police Accountability,” is used by police departments to set up discipline and accountability systems.

Archbold said many police departments across the country have a male-dominated culture similar to a college fraternity. She said officers often know who the harassers are within a department before they are finally investigated. And officers who commit misconduct often have previous complaints in their files.

“This issue [of sexual harassment] is something that’s always been around,” Archbold said. “It’s probably going to continue to be around, but I think that to ferret it out, you really have to do the work and many departments just aren’t doing that.”

Archbold said the best way to address misconduct is through the PTSR framework, which stands for policy, training, supervision and review or audit. She said policies around sexual misconduct must include clear definitions and consequences.

“It needs to be spelled out very clearly from the top, because in police organizations everything trickles down from the top,” she said.

The changes Louisville officials announced this week follow much of the PTSR framework, but Archbold said there are still other areas of concern.

In her lawsuit against the city last week, LMPD Sgt. Lauren Carby detailed the sexual harassment she said she experienced at a pool party in 2020. Carby noted in her lawsuit that there were many witnesses, but none reported the misconduct. She also said she was apprehensive about reporting it herself because she felt supervisors and other officers wouldn’t want to work with her.

Archbold said that kind of fear indicates a larger, cultural problem within a police department.

“Fear of retaliation or repercussions from peers is one of the reasons why a lot of officers choose not to report,” she said. “They worry about the position it would put them in with other people.”

Archbold said it’s up to department supervisors and especially the police chief to “create a culture that rejects this behavior.” She said culture change doesn’t happen overnight — it requires a sustained effort. That’s difficult considering how often police departments switch chiefs.

Today, the average tenure of a police chief in a large city is around five years, according to the Police Executive Research Forum. It’s been even shorter in Louisville, where six different people have led LMPD since 2024.

“When you go from one chief with a certain set of ideals and values and then you go to one that maybe has a different view … you’re going to see vast changes and, in some cases, it’s not good,” Archbold said.

For now, Interim Chief Paul Humphrey appears to be the person who could lead LMPD forward as it works through its own reform initiatives, like the changes to its sexual misconduct policies. If he stays in the position, Humphrey will also be tasked with implementing reforms required by the Department of Justice as part of the consent decree it is negotiating with Louisville Metro.

Greenberg said Tuesday that there will not be an immediate search for a permanent chief, freeing up Humphrey to focus on a troubled department that he wants to get back to solving crimes.

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

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