Search Warrants Under Scrutiny As Police Killings Spark Reforms Wednesday, Jul 8 2020 

The police officers who killed Breonna Taylor came with a search warrant that allowed detectives to raid the 26-year-old’s home without first knocking.

Such warrants — called no-knocks — instantly proved controversial once Taylor’s death was thrust into the national spotlight. The Louisville Metro Council was swift to ban the use of no-knock warrants last month in a unanimous vote.

In practice, no-knock warrants like those solicited for the Taylor search are rare: of more than 6,000 search warrants served by LMPD since 2018, fewer than 1% were no-knocks, according to LMPD data. 

And now, the call to reform the process by which police seek and obtain search warrants from Louisville judges is broadening, sparking introspection and infighting at the courthouse.

Some attorneys, civil liberty advocates and criminal justice experts say the search warrant process lacks transparency, oversight and fairness. But many Louisville judges defend the system, saying a judge’s oath alone binds them to act with integrity and the push for reform is little more than window dressing.

Ted Shouse, a Louisville-based defense attorney, pushed for reform to the broader system of search warrants in an op-ed in the Courier Journal last month. Shouse argued the current system is unnecessarily secret, and gives police an upper hand not afforded to criminal defendants.

Police can call, email or meet-in person with a judge to get a warrant. Officers can take their pick between 30 judges with jurisdiction in the county to present their case for a search warrant. And anecdotally, judges, lawyers and researchers have concluded that officer’s warrant requests are rarely refused — for those that are, there’s no record to show for it and no system to track how or if a request is modified or just presented to another judge for approval.

“All I’m advocating is transparency,” Shouse said in an interview with KyCIR last week. “Why would a judge not want transparency?”

Chief Jefferson Circuit Judge Angela McCormick Bisig said judges are “gatekeepers” and “neutral listeners.” They may be cordial with officers, but they’re not casual and they don’t play favorites, she said.

“We take this responsibility very seriously,” she said. “We try to be transparent.” 

Police Generally Pick Judge

In the aftermath of Taylor’s death, the Louisville Metro Police Department amended its search warrant policy to require officers get approval from their commander before applying for a search warrant. Local court rules and police policy advise police officers to contact court clerks during business hours and be assigned a judge, but that doesn’t always happen, said Chief Jefferson District Court Judge Anne Haynie.

Jefferson District Court

Local District Court rules.

Occasionally, officers will catch a judge in the courtroom or in their office and present their case for a search warrant, she said. Some search warrant requests are processed electronically, via email, said Haynie. After hours, an on-call District Court judge is available 24 hours a day to respond to requests, Haynie said. But officers are not required to contact the on-call judge.

“It’s really just whoever is available,” she said. 

Once a judge receives the affidavit, the review can be quick, said Leland Hulbert, a defense attorney and former prosecutor.

“Typically, what I see is judges are asked in the middle of the day or middle of the night to approve a warrant and they don’t have a lot of time to digest,” Hulbert said. “They are usually signed the day they are presented.”

But now, amid the fallout and outrage from Taylor’s death and the circumstances that led to it, Hulbert believes judges will be more scrupulous in their review of search warrant applications.  More requirements like the creation of an independent warrant review panel or mandating that judges explain, in writing, why they are approving a warrant could further strengthen the process, Hulbert said.

“Just stating that in writing could bring more transparency,” he said.

Bisig said judges can only consider the information included in the affidavit when making their decision to approve or reject an officer’s request and the conversation between judge and officer has no basis in the ultimate decision.

The affidavits are included in court files, and can be subject to review by judges and defense attorneys once a case begins crawling through the criminal justice system.

“We’re not trying to hide anything here,” Bisig said. 

Still, Shouse, and others, say documenting that interaction is a critical step towards transparency.

“These conversations, however brief they may be, are critical to the criminal justice system,” he said. “Why not have that brief exchange between a police officer or a judge available? What’s the argument against it?

“The system, as it exists now, affords zero transparency,” Shouse said.

Getting details about search warrant requests can be cumbersome, if not impossible. The courts don’t maintain a database of search warrant requests, and in turn, there’s no record of search warrants requests that are rejected by a judge.

Shouse thinks judges should be randomly assigned to officers who come seeking a search warrant. Judges are randomly assigned in criminal and civil cases, which are heavily documented from beginning to end. But when it comes to search warrants — which can be an intrusive tipping off point for allegations that pull people into the criminal justice system — no such requirements exist.

Jefferson Circuit Court Judge Charles L. Cunningham penned a rebuke of Shouse’s call for reform in his own op-ed in the Courier Journal last week. In it, Cunningham dismissed the notion that police “cherry pick” judges when they need a search warrant approved.

“Judges are not anyone’s rubber stamp,” he said.

He said assigning a judge at random to approve a warrant would be cumbersome, and clog the schedules of both police and judges.

“Judges don’t just sit around waiting for the police to show up,” Cunningham said. “We often can’t drop what we are doing to hear a warrant application. The police have to hunt for a judge who will make the time to hear them. Some judges dodge this task; some make the time.”

But Cunningham is open to some reform. In an interview with KyCIR last week, he said a welcome improvement in the search warrant process would be to develop a tracking system to monitor which warrant requests are denied, and what becomes of them.

Cunningham said it’s impossible to know if an officer who failed to get approval goes on to gather more evidence, or simply walks down the hall to another judge. Keeping a record of when a judge rejects a warrant could quell any concern that law enforcement effectively go judge shopping when they need a warrant, he said.

“Would it stop them from shopping around? It would definitely stop it,” he said.  “Would that somehow fix a problem? That’s a much tougher question.”

A spokesperson for LMPD did not respond to a request for comment for this report.

Judges Say New Process Would Be Prohibitive

Haynie says a randomized process that only allows one judge at a time to issue warrants could be a barrier for law enforcement and a burden to the criminal justice system.

Jefferson District Court

Chief Jefferson District Judge Anne Haynie

The 17 judges presiding over district court deal with crowded dockets of misdemeanor crimes and traffic offenses, as well as weddings, arrest warrants, emergency protective orders and more, she said.

“You just don’t know how busy people are during the day and you don’t want warrants just sitting there,” Haynie said. “I could not fathom being on a heavy docket and having to break that docket and spend time on a warrant.”

Limiting the pool of judges available would be “just window dressing,” according to Jefferson Circuit Court Judge McKay Chauvin. He said each judge took an oath to uphold the rule of law, and that requires scrutinizing warrants equally and fairly, without consideration to their own beliefs or bias.

“Constitutionally, every judge is the same,” he said. “If there is a problem with a judge, this is not how you solve it.”

Not Everyone Agrees

Jefferson District Court Judge Julie Kaelin doesn’t think the oath alone is enough to ensure public trust or accountability.

“I don’t think that we are so special that we are infallible,” she said.

Kaelin supports documenting interactions between judges and the police that come seeking a warrant. The mere perception of judge shopping is concern enough to welcome reforms to boost transparency and oversight, she said.

“There is no reason to not make it a more transparent process,” Kaelin said. “I don’t know why anyone wouldn’t want to.”

Police can execute a search warrant at any time of day. They can bust down doors, seize property, and make arrests. The raw intrusiveness of government prying into the private lives of people is so great the U.S. Constitution provides protections against it — and yet, police searches are key elements of evidence gathering, said Kate Miller, advocacy director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky. But obtaining and executing search warrants shouldn’t come at the cost of people’s civil rights.

“It’s such an important right to be able to be secure in your own home,” Miller said.

Even as calls to ban no-knock warrants echo nationwide, experts say wider reform would be a struggle. Search warrants are an ingrained aspect of policing, and their immediacy can be crucial to securing evidence and catching suspects.

Getting buy-in for change on how police obtain warrants would be difficult, says Damon Preston, the chief public defender for Kentucky’s Department of Public Advocacy. But he thinks some reform is necessary, and one way to hold police and judges accountable would be to require more transparency.

“At the least they should provide data, reports,” he said.

Nationally, little data exists detailing the scope or use of search warrants, said Trevor Burns, a research fellow at The Cato Institute, a libertarian think-tank based in Washington D.C. This is partly by design, he said: Prosecutors and police are not always keen on disclosing the strategies of their crime fighting.

But the process to get a warrant in Louisville is not unusual, Burns said. Since police are only required to prove probable cause, a low evidentiary bar, they typically present true, simple facts to a judge, Burns said. The question lies with how much scrutiny a judge is willing to give to a warrant request, he said. 

Oftentimes, it’s not much, Burns said.

“Judges just trust police,” he said. “It’s hard to think of a situation where the judge will give hard scrutiny to a warrant.”

Contact Jacob Ryan at jryan@kycir.org.

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University leaders hold virtual forum with community Thursday, Jun 11 2020 

By Joseph Garcia —

University of Louisville President Neeli Bendapudi held a virtual forum with U of L Police Department Chief Gary Lewis and Criminal Justice Department Chair Cherie Dawson-Edwards on June 9 to answer community questions on the relationship between ULPD and the Louisville Metro Police Department.

Lewis began by explaining the current relationship ULPD has with LMPD and how it goes back to the 1970s.

“Following the Kent State incident, many universities felt it important to create and develop their own police force,” Lewis said. “Many may not know, but this organization started with a Louisville Metro retiree.”

Lewis said that when he arrived to U of L two years ago, ULPD had about 98% retired Louisville Metro police officers working for ULPD. “To date, we are at about 40%,” Lewis said.

Lewis said that ULPD is a state accredited police department with less than 50 sworn officers, about 30 security officers and travel escorts.

Bendapudi also explained there is no formal partnership agreement between the two police departments that U of L can divest from.

Dawson-Edwards told students: “We hear you.”

“I realize that people think that training and education as just a reform thing, not a divest, but I want to argue it’s both,” Dawson-Edwards said. “We have to do training and education, and we need to do it better. We need to hold the police accountable, we need to hold ourselves accountable for that education and training.”

Like Bendapudi said in her response to BSU, Dawson-Edwards has committed to doing equity audits for all criminal justice academic programs, including the police executive leadership development certificate.

“I want to make sure that we are infusing equity, inclusion, diversity, social justice, all types of things in our curriculum,” she said. “It is not enough for us to just teach people how to be police and not teach people what they should expect from the community in this society that we’re living in.”

She anticipates the Southern Police Institute, a 60-year old officer training program located and taught at U of L, will do the same. This could include more activities, training and education about these particular issues with current police officers.

During the Q&A portion of the forum, Bendapudi was asked why U of L could not do what the University of Minnesota did in choosing to dissociate from their local police department.

“The reality is that we are an urban campus as you’ve heard,” Bendapudi said. “Our streets and roads, and Louisville’s, are intertwined. So we definitely need to work together–that’s the concurrent and overlapping jurisdictions you’ve heard about.”

Dawson-Edwards further explained that what is coming out of Minnesota is because people have been researching and doing the work to understand the problems for a long time.

“They are primed for it,” Dawson-Edwards said. “They have a 150 year history document on performance review for their police called ‘Enough is Enough.'”

“You can’t just take one city’s or one university’s blueprint and lay it on top of ours without making sure that our stuff matches theirs,” Dawson-Edwards said.

Bendapudi ended the forum by reiterating the actions U of L is taking, including now doing background checks for any officer who works at university events.

“As mother and leader of higher education, who has always cared for her students, I am telling you that we are going to work together on this,” Bendapudi said. “There is so much to learn.  I catch myself all the time when I forget all the privileges I have and you as young people, you’re educating us.”

She then committed to an anti-racist agenda moving forward. Bendapudi said there will be more forums in the future to continue discussion on broad, difficult topics.

“Let’s not forget this moment, this is not performative. This is not just until the news cycle changes. It’s important,” Bendapudi said. “I will do my best and I give you my word. My job is to do the very best I can for you, and that’s what I intend to do.”

File Photo // The Louisville Cardinal 

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Under Pressure, More Kentucky Agencies Report Asset Forfeiture Seizures Tuesday, Feb 11 2020 

Amid growing scrutiny of Kentucky law enforcement’s use of asset forfeiture, more than twice as many agencies disclosed last year how much cash and property they seized than they did two years prior. 

More than 280 agencies filed required reports last year for seizures that totaled $11.6 million statewide in fiscal year 2019. That includes every single county sheriff in the state, and at least 44 agencies who disclosed their seizures for the first time in at least six years, according to a KyCIR analysis of state data.

By comparison, state data shows 138 agencies reported seizing $5.9 million in 2017. 

The surge in reporting comes after a 2018 report from KyCIR that found few agencies complied with a state law that requires agencies to file annual reports with the state’s Justice and Public Safety Cabinet’s Office of Drug Control Policy detailing what they seize.

Following that report, legislators demanded more transparency from law enforcement, and both the Kentucky Association of Chiefs of Police and the Kentucky Sheriffs’ Association have launched a concentrated effort to get more agencies in compliance.

“We think we, as sheriffs, have turned a corner towards professionalism,” said Jerry Wagner, the executive director of the sheriffs’ association. 

Wagner said he was surprised to learn that agencies were failing to report. Now, he’s proud to see full compliance from the state’s sheriffs.

His organization started pushing sheriffs to adhere to the reporting requirement by sending out mailers and following up with agencies who hadn’t submitted the reports.

Shawn Butler, the executive director of the Kentucky Association of Chiefs of Police, blames “an educational breakdown” for agencies failing to comply with the law. 

“It’s confusion,” he said. “A lot of people just thought they didn’t have to report.”

(Read more: Few Ky. Agencies Report What They Seize)

Agencies reported seizing $61.3 million between 2013 and 2019, according to state data. Nearly 40 percent of that total was reported in just the last two years. 

But it’s unclear how much was actually seized, because more than 60 agencies still failed to report in 2019 as required. 

Disclosing what is seized each year is important for transparency, but it’s also good for the public perception of law enforcement, said Louisville Metro Police Sgt. Tulio Tourinho, who’s also an advocate for the Law Enforcement Action Partnership, a non-profit advocacy group focused on progressive criminal justice reform.

Tourinho said agencies should be “methodical” about reporting what they seize, and being ignorant of the law is no excuse.

“If you don’t report, it’s suspicious,” he said. “It’s absolutely detrimental to the relationship between community and police, which is built on trust.”

Agencies Say They Just Learned About State Law 

In May 2018, an officer with the Graymoor-Devondale Police Department seized $1,034 from the glove box of a vehicle driven by a man suspected of felony drug dealing.

The agency reported the cash seized — the first time it submitted a seizure report to the state. 

The department’s chief, Grady Throneberry, said the seizure was “an unusual situation” for the agency that employs 19 officers and patrols a handful of small, independent cities in eastern Jefferson County. 

Throneberry first learned about the reporting requirement at a state training a few years back. 

“If we’d known we were supposed to be [reporting], we would have been,” he said.

Typically, Throneberry said his agency lets larger outside agencies, like the St. Matthews Police Department, take the lead on drug investigations in his jurisdiction, and they cut some of the revenue back to Throneberry’s agency. He assumed those agencies handled the technicalities and procedures related to asset forfeiture cases.

“They’re the experts on that — not us,” he said. 

At least 43 other agencies also reported for the first time in 2019, according to an analysis of state data. Collectively, those agencies seized nearly $100,000 in the 2019 fiscal year.

In Lincoln County, the sheriff’s department reported seizing about $7,400, a few vehicles and a dozen guns in the 2019 fiscal year — the first time the agency reported. The sheriff, Curt Folger, said he recently found out he had to disclose from the Kentucky Sheriffs’ Association.

Folger said complying with the law gave him a bit of peace of mind.

“I think everybody should be transparent with their office,” Folger said. “I feel better now that we are.”

But Oak Grove Police Chief Dennis Cunningham doesn’t see the value in filing the reports.

His agency of 17 officers operates near the Tennessee border in western Kentucky. In 2019, the agency reported its seizures for the first time: nearly $3,800 and more than a dozen guns. 

Cunningham said he understands the reporting requirements now.

“But whether or not I agree with it is another thing,” Cunningham said.

He sees the requirement to report as a cumbersome redundancy. Courts also keep records of forfeitures, he said, and the data should come from the courts.

“I don’t think there is a benefit,” he said. “Why are we doing double and triple the work?” 

Police Disagree On Disclosure, Value Of Forfeiture

Reporting seizures is a basic level of public accountability, said Dan Alban, a senior attorney with the Institute for Justice, a Virginia-based civil liberty advocacy group that pushes for more restrictions on asset forfeiture. 

The information should come directly from law enforcement, he said.

“Any property a government agency has, it should keep track of that property,” he said. “It’s important for the public and state officials to be able to see the data so they can evaluate what’s actually happening with forfeiture and with the property that is seized.”

In Kentucky, law enforcement keeps 85 percent of forfeited property, which they’re free to spend on a range of equipment, software and other police wares.

Critics claim asset forfeiture profit potential provides officers with a perverse incentive to seek out cash in order to fatten department budgets.

Tourinho said asset forfeiture has “zero effect” on how officers police.

He also thinks it has little impact on combating the drug trade.

“It actually might have a reverse effect,” he said. “When you take away [a drug dealer’s] car or you take their cash, you know they’ll be back at it within a month and they’ll be back at it hard because they’ve got to recoup the loss.”

His agency, the Louisville Metro Police Department, regularly seizes the most cash and property in Kentucky, state records show.

The agency seized more than $27 million, about 450 vehicles and nearly 11,000 guns between 2013 and 2019, according to state data. In Louisville, police use seized funds to buy covert GPS trackers, cameras, and to make payments on ShotSpotter, their gunshot detection system.

Data shows the practice is widespread: last year, 27 agencies reported seizing at least $50,000. 

Agencies that do not seize cash or property are not required by law to report to state officials, but the state asks them to report, anyway, and data shows more agencies are doing so.

In 2013, five agencies reported not seizing anything. Last year, 79 agencies reported no seizures, according to state data.

And though the state’s data is more complete now than in years past, some law enforcement officials still question its validity.

Full Picture Still Unknown

According to state data, the Christian County Sheriff’s Office has only reported its seizures once in the last six years. But Lt. Scott Smith provided KyCIR with completed annual reporting forms dating back to 2013, showing the agency seized more than $28,000 from 2013 to 2018 that’s not reflected in the state’s totals.

Christian County Sheriff

The Christian County Sheriff’s 2018 annual asset forfeiture report.

 

State data also does not include every law enforcement agency. There are 350 agencies reflected in 2019 data, but there are 411 certified law enforcement agencies in Kentucky, according to the state’s Department of Criminal Justice Training.

The state’s Justice and Public Safety Cabinet’s Office of Drug Control Policy maintains asset forfeiture data. Lisa Lamb, a spokesperson for the cabinet, declined a request for an interview with cabinet officials. 

“The Justice and Public Safety Cabinet is currently reviewing the process of asset forfeiture,” said Mary Noble, the cabinet secretary, in an emailed statement sent by Lamb. “We are following the current law, and will work to comply with any legislative changes.”

Lamb said the agency sends letters to each agency in an effort to remind them of their responsibility to report what they seize, but she did not address specific questions about data discrepancies or why the cabinet fails to include every agency in its database. 

The data available shows that about 40 agencies failed to report their seizure totals to state officials in each of the past six years. 

Legislation Would Require More Disclosure

Though more Kentucky agencies are adhering to existing reporting laws, the law, itself, isn’t strong enough, said Alban with the Institute for Justice.

The Institute for Justice gave Kentucky a D- grade in a recent report examining asset forfeiture reporting laws across the nation. Alban said the poor grade is due to the lack of detail collected by state officials. 

Presently, agencies are only required under law to submit “a detailed listing of all items seized.” 

A bill filed earlier this month in the state’s General Assembly would not only bring a higher level of detail to what agencies are required to report, but it would also strengthen the penalties for agencies that fail to comply. The bill, filed by Rep. Reginald Meeks, a Louisville Democrat, would make agencies that fail to submit reports ineligible to receive $4,000 officer training incentive stipends from the Kentucky Law Enforcement Foundation Program, or KLEFP.

A second bill, filed by Rep. Savannah Maddox, a Dry Ridge Republican, also calls for more detailed reporting, and would prohibit agencies from spending seized funds until they report with state officials. Agencies that submit late reports would be fined $500, under Maddox’s bill.

Alban said these details, and more, are needed in order to provide the public with the full scope of asset forfeiture.

“You can’t hold agencies accountable without data,” he said. “You’ve got to have information.”

Contact Jacob Ryan at jryan@kycir.org or (502) 814-6559.

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Budget-Driven Cuts Contribute To Large LMPD Surplus Thursday, Dec 5 2019 

Police park outside Occupy ICE Protest SiteNearly six months after citywide budget cuts, Metro government leaders shared insight into how the Louisville Metro Police Department ended up with a surplus of more than $2.6 million last year.

A key factor was the cancellation of a recruit class in June, which was done in anticipation of the cuts, according to the city’s Chief Financial Officer Daniel Frockt. He and police Chief Steve Conrad addressed the Metro Council’s public safety committee on Wednesday afternoon.

On Thursday, the budget committee will consider an ordinance determining how an unexpected $4 million surplus from the last fiscal year — which includes the LMPD’s excess — will be allocated across Metro Government.

Frockt said about a third of the LMPD surplus came from sources like special events, including a one-time payment for the 2018 Breeders’ Cup, which took place at Churchill Downs.

But eliminating the planned June recruit class saved the department $460,000 in personnel costs, he said.

“The reason that you have the greatest savings from the cancellation of the June class is that you have 12 months that you’re not paying the recruits,” Frockt said.

Another nearly $1.3 million wasn’t spent on expenditures such as ammunition, first aid supplies, training, education and professional services, Frockt said. Major Paul Humphrey, commander of LMPD’s training division, elaborated that money allocated for those line items related to the recruit class that did not happen was redistributed to other departments or not spent.

The Metro Council appropriated $179.4 million from the city’s $626 million general fund in the 2018-2019 fiscal year budget.

Conrad said that 86 officers had resigned this year by the end of November, which is higher than anticipated. That was the deadline for retirement in order for some officers to receive certain pension benefits. The shortfall of officers this year, which is also due to some officers leaving for better-paying departments in the area, forced LMPD to reorganize this fall.

And, unlike other years, there was one fewer recruit class to make up for the losses.

“That class would have graduated this month, they would have gone through four months of field training, and we would have had somewhere between, you know, 35 and 40 new officers on the street that won’t be there,” he said.

The budget ordinance under consideration Thursday recommends allocating $300,000 to shift a recruit class from June of next year up to May. LMPD is also scheduled to start a class in February.

That “would give us an opportunity to hire up to a total of 96 recruits between the two classes, but the ones hired in February don’t graduate until August, and aren’t going to be in a position to help us on their own until almost the end of 2020,” Conrad said.

Meanwhile, both homicides and shootings are up this year compared to 2018. He said there were 88 homicides through Dec. 4, 2019, compared to 73 by that date last year. As of Monday, there were about 17 more shootings this year than last for an increase of about 6.5 percent, he said.

Asked whether that could be a result of fewer officers and resources for the department, Conrad said he could not directly link those factors to the rate of crimes.

“But I absolutely do know that what the police do, matters,” he said. “More officers, in my personal opinion, would lead to fewer, fewer crimes and in particular, fewer violent crimes.”

This year’s budget cuts were a result of a pension bill for city employees that is expected to continue increasing at about $10 million a year for the next several years. Some lawmakers and city leaders have said more tax revenue would be a preferable alternative to further cuts.

LMPD To Emphasize Considering De-Escalation In Internal Investigations Wednesday, Oct 30 2019 

For the first time, language in the operating manual for Louisville Metro Police Department’s professional standards unit will direct internal investigators to consider whether officers tried de-escalation as a way to avoid using force.

After months of discussion with city leadership, Citizens of Louisville Organized and United Together (CLOUT) is celebrating the proposed shift. Chief Steve Conrad announced the change Tuesday evening at a membership meeting hosted by the group.

Conrad said conversations with CLOUT “led to some changes that I think will not only improve our policies and our practices, but will hopefully also lead to a reduction in the number of injuries involving citizens and our officers.”

Chris Finzer, the chair of CLOUT’s mental health and addiction issue committee, said this new language doesn’t put new burdens on officers, but rather makes the potential for de-escalation more central to investigations.

Plus, he said LMPD is adding to its standard operating procedures information about interacting with people who may be intoxicated, suicidal or otherwise acting erratically. That will inform investigations into encounters with people who may suffer from mental illness or addiction, he said.

“It will definitely be an expectation for police officers to make greater use of the de-escalation tactics that they prescribe,” he said. “We believe that they will be expected to use them and if they don’t, the officers will be held accountable.”

CLOUT considers accountability to be lacking in this regard. Last year, the group announced it had reviewed 68 internal use of force investigations since adding its de-escalation policy, and CLOUT said it found that LMPD did not look at whether officers followed department policies for dealing with people with mental illness or addiction.

Mayor Greg Fischer met with CLOUT last year, but Finzer said the group wasn’t as successful as they would have liked to be in engaging him.

An LMPD spokeswoman confirmed the changes, but downplayed their significance. She said the new language simply makes explicit the expectation of using de-escalation when appropriate, which she said the department has already been trying to teach. She also pointed out that officers went through new training that included de-escalation techniques.

But Sam Walker, an expert in police accountability, disagreed.

“It’s a very big deal,” he said.

Walker is a professor emeritus of criminal justice at the University of Nebraska in Omaha. He said adopting a written policy of de-escalation isn’t enough. Police departments need to enforce it in training and discipline too.

“It’s become the standard across the country,” he said. “And I would say that Louisville is a little behind the times at this point.”

Departments traditionally didn’t offer guidance on these issues, which meant officers might have been less likely to try de-escalation, Walker said.

But, since the 2014 shooting of unarmed teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, many police departments have changed their approach. He thinks that more enforcement of de-escalation policies could lead to fewer instances of officers using force when it’s not necessary. And that could especially benefit groups such as African-Americans or those with mental illness.

The LMPD policy adjustments will go into effect on Nov. 7. Conrad said LMPD would track the effectiveness of its de-escalation policy changes and training, and announce results early next year.

Reporter Kyeland Jackson contributed to this story.

LMPD Chief Announces Plan To Reorganize As Police Force Shrinks Tuesday, Oct 22 2019 

The Louisville Metro Police Department could lose up to 100 officers by the end of the fiscal year, leading Chief Steve Conrad to reorganize staff in an effort to “become leaner and more focused in our approach,” he announced Tuesday morning.

LMPD has already implemented some changes this year due to Metro-wide budget cuts, including pulling crossing guards and resource officers out of schools, and cutting a recruit class. City leaders cut more than $25 million from this year’s budget due to increasing pension and employee health care costs.

The changes announced Tuesday involve consolidating departments starting Dec. 1, the deadline for some officers to retire in order to receive certain pension benefits. Conrad said special operations and community services would merge, as would narcotics and the Ninth Mobile division.

“While we’re still working out the details of these combined divisions in terms of how they’ll be structured internally, we know that the steps are necessary because of the budget cuts, and because of the size of our decreasing workforce,” Conrad said at a news conference Tuesday. “Our intention is to continue to serve this community, though, with all of the functions that currently exist today in these divisions.”

The LMPD will reorganize its command structure, as two major positions will be eliminated through attrition, he said.

Conrad characterized the move to reorganize as “difficult decisions,” and said there would be more to come.

When the last fiscal year ended in June, LMPD had an average of 1,260 officers, including command staff, Conrad said. Now, the department is down to 1,189. He said LMPD would not be hiring any new employees until February.

The city’s pension obligation will continue rising for the next several years, leaving some Metro Council members concerned that more budget cuts are on the horizon unless they figure out a way to increase tax revenue. That could spell a $10 million reduction next year.

“I know there are a number of efforts underway, being able to find additional resources that might potentially change the course,” Conrad said, referring to council members. “But we are at this point operating with less money than what we had last year and making decisions based on that.”

Conrad said LMPD will continue to reduce staff over time as needed to fit the department’s budget.

But budget isn’t the only reason the department is shrinking. In addition to retirements, some officers are leaving for jobs they prefer at other police departments. And Conrad has come under fire for comments he made this summer in which he did not take responsibility for low officer morale.

Conrad said Tuesday he is concerned about officer attrition. He lamented not being in a position to compete with offers from other police departments.