March 24, 2023 12:00pm

What Power Poll members think of Louisville Metro’s policing problems

Can LMPD be saved? What will it take? Our members have answers.

Photo of Ms. Lisa Hornung
Louisville, KY Correspondent
article image

Image: Pete Linforth/Pixabay

Louisville’s policing has come under intense scrutiny for the past few years, but none as much as in the past few weeks after U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland published a report telling how the city and its police have violated the constitutional rights of their people.

The report followed a two-year investigation into the department following the shooting death of Breonna Taylor. Taylor, a 26-year-old Black woman, was awakened in her apartment by police with a no-knock warrant and shot six times by police after her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, fired at them. He later said he thought they were intruders. Of the four police officers involved, only one, Kelly Goodlett, was convicted of conspiracy charges — she pleaded guilty.

Powerpoll members had a lot to say about the issue in this week’s poll, which is not a big surprise. The issue of police violence is divided by ideology — Democrats tend to side against police, and Republicans usually back police officers — though it’s not a hard line.

We asked members if they were surprised at the allegations that Louisville police were violating constitutional rights. A whopping 90 percent of respondents said no.

We asked if they believed that former Mayor Greg Fisher and previous police chiefs ignored the issues in the police department. But only 52 percent were willing to lay the blame at their feet. Twenty-nine percent said “maybe/not sure,” and 19 percent said the issues weren’t ignored.

We asked if they believed that our new Mayor Craig Greenberg’s pledge to cooperate with the DOJ and work to change the culture that led to this report will make a difference. Here, opinions were more closely matched. Forty-seven percent said yes, while 36 percent said “maybe/not sure,” and 17 percent said “no.”

Members were very outspoken on both sides of the issue in our last two questions.

Why do you think LMPD has so many issues in the report?

  • The report is without a benchmark. These type issues and culture likely exist in many cities.
  • LMPD has been decimated in terms of personnel losses by the lawlessness propagated by the current federal administration in Washington, DC. We need to work with the local police not undermine them for overt political reasons.
  • I don’t believe there has been any appetite for change within LMPD for the last 10 years at least and no one, including city government or our citizens really cared or paid much attention to it.
  • Partly political but chief leadership has lacked.
  • I believe every police force has these issues, not just LMPD
  • Every organization has ‘bad actors’ who become bolder over time if not corrected/removed. I don’t believe Fischer knew the extent of the problem but he put too much trust in police leadership when there were signs of poor policing by some, over a long period of time.
  • Shifting the culture from military force mentality to one of protection and safety for all.
  • Their hands are tied. They can't do their job without being scrutinized over everything. We are wanting to defund the police. This city is going to have another riot if we don't start being harsh is the punishment of thieves and punks. The slap of the hand is not working. Criminals know they will get out of jail just like that, for crimes.
  • The number of issues in the report is directly related to the length of time that these issues have gone ignored, under reported, excused, and misunderstood as a systemic issue.
  • I think these are long-standing systemic problems that will take time and intentional efforts. Changing leadership and administrations that continuously impact current priorities derails from that. There needs to be a well thought out, long term strategic plan for change.
  • Bad history, not enough attempts to make improvements
  • The vast majority of white residents of Louisville have never been west of 9th street - especially those of any means. Predominantly black neighborhoods, like Russell and California, aren't considered by most whites as part of the city. This sad reality is reflected in the DOJ report - "keep them over there and quiet by any means necessary." I honestly don't think that most residents of Louisville even care about the report.
  • The whole "culture" of police. Hand a man or woman a gun, train them to "fight crime" and they (in their own heads) become both untouchable and important. Add in some hot nights, some hasty actions and a few "bad apples" and it becomes out of control. I feel too often the citizens and their elected officials have lost control and do not feel they can rein in the cops until something like this happens. I believe in many cases even the mayor is "afraid" of his own police while he should be the one in charge calling the shots, not the police chief who usually is just another one of the women or men who rose thru the ranks but still with the attitude I mentioned above.
  • Because police have been told to “clean up” the city and eliminate crime and the racist and inhumane components of the approaches to doing that are tolerated if not tacitly encouraged by political and police leadership and the broader white community
  • The culture of policing is rooted in racism. Even the most well-meaning folks operate within that context.
    The LMPD is understaffed and overworked people are frustrated people.
  • DOJ cherrypicked worst complaints with no evidence of systemic problems.
  • They have not been held accountable and we’ve had the wrong people in LMPD leadership, examples…Scout program, brutality issues, racial profiling, etc…
  • I think the current climate is anti-police, which is sad. I think our brave men and women in blue do the best that they can in the toughest of circumstances. Reports like this, which are clearly biased and skewed to a political agenda, do more harm than good.
  • Poor leadership at the Chief level. Budget issues tied to lack of training, staff levels.
  • Culture of officers protecting their colleagues.
  • There are a number of reasons...
    1) Policing in the south was created by slavers for the purpose of "catching" black people and returning them to enslavement. That mentality of looking at a black citizen as "less than" has been built into police culture and reinforced by using racist and discriminatory training practices.
    2) LMPD has built a culture of "us vs. them" where the only people they protect are their fellow police officers. That won't change by building them a damn wellness center.
    3) Our FOP has a stranglehold on this city which has allowed LMPD to continue getting away with murder, rape, and assault for decades. All the while, they get more and more money from the city from closed negotiations.
    4) LMPD has never been and will never be transparent with their transgressions. They use the media to purport their narratives as our local media is use to getting crime reports from LMPD for decades.
  • It’s due to years of ignoring the problem, which goes back several administrations. The problem didn’t start with Fisher. The police union went unchecked during the 20 years of the Abramson administration and grew into one of the most powerful units in the country. Abramson provided no oversight and ignored rising violent crime.
  • There are a shortage of officers because officers do not feel supported. I do not believe this report will help that issue. Fewer officers to solve serious crimes means more crimes will occur.
  • Our court system bears some responsibility for increased crime because there don’t appear to be serious consequences for the crimes committed.
  • If we had more officers, lesser crimes could be addressed so those committing those lesser offenses could be assigned meaningful consequences that might stop them from committing more serious crimes.
  • Lack of training could be contributing to how officers handle lesser offenses so escalation to more serious offenses likely would not occur..
  • Lack of leadership and believing individuals, especially when hearing the same stories over and over.
  • LMPD has been at the center of the report's focus. However, broad-based community and leadership issues shared by the police union, the police leadership, and the city leadership played significant roles in the policing problems our city has faced. It will take a true collaboration and a willingness to change to move forward and commit to the hard work that must be done at every level.
  • Racism coupled with unlimited and unchecked power was a recipe for disaster. And still is. The officers, supervisors, etc are still employed with LMPD so we are still in the same situation. You cannot reform your way out of racism.
  • Because the media is digging and is turning the public against law enforcement
  • Lack of strong middle managers
  • I think the media vilifies the LMPD. We are down 400 police from where we need to be. Our city is being overrun by crime and homelessness while the liberal media continues to attack the police.
  • I think these issues are throughout most police departments in the US
  • I think the job of policing has never been more difficult. There is a climate of opportunity for criminals. I believe chief Conrad was not the right leader for the department.
  • There is a systemic problem, based upon racial profiling in a city where crime is concentrated in a geographic area cause by red lining. This was built over decades and will take true radical change that goes beyond the LMPD.
  • They've been allowed to break the rules. Without consequences for the little things the big things are easier to convince yourself are ok to do. Even good people, in packs, make bad choices when there are no consequences.
  • I think the collective bargaining system prevents local administrations from effecting change and insulates LMPD from local accountability.
  • systemic racism
  • Not acknowledging basic human rights, needs. Lack of respect, accountability.
  • Training in all areas is lacking
  • not sure
  • Piss Poor Leadership!!
  • I think the LMPD does not value people of color and low income people. The police know they can get away with taking advantage of marginalized people.
  • Every city is suffering at some level from a deteriorating trust between our police departments and communities. Having the ability to recruit, retain, develop and promote a force that is more reflective of the communities they serve is a challenging yet critical endeavor. Tackling the challenges within these departements should be done in such a manner to address the behaviors while also allowing those leading the change and evolution to do so with the support and trust of this community
  • LMPD has a long history of problematic behavior with little changes or repercussions. Similar findings have been in the news at least since the early 2000s. They are over-funded and under-supervised.
  • I think the culture was set and it takes real concerted effort to change a culture - it also takes time so sometimes that leads to turning a blind eye until something like this report comes out.
  • Undermanned and underpaid. Poor leadership and weak judiciary.
  • LMPD is not accountable for its actions and has allowed a culture of impunity and violence to develop. This will not be resolved by building a new police building with a nice gym or "retraining" the same bad actors by showing them thought-provoking videos. This culture will not be changed by letting existing officers dictate the terms of their reform. Even without the existing problems, the current U.S. police establishment operations a military-style deployment of officers vs. citizens using military-style gear and tactics. This is a fundamental problem that contributes to the police violence against citizens.

The final question got equally strong responses. What can LMPD do to improve?

  • Back to basics. Community oriented policing, speciality patrols, recruitment of more diverse candidates, raise pay, raise educational level and benefits.
  • More and better training
    Community leaders need to come together in a unified approach.
  • Adjust its culture.
  • It can be allowed to do its job at stopping criminals and crime. Look at what's happening in Chicago. In the "Windy City" the mayor has been removed by its citizens to get back to law and order after it broke down during the Covid-19 pandemic. Doing nothing about rampant crime in our city (Louisville) has made it an unwelcome place for its own citizens to work and thrive and sent the message to business investors to look at safer, better run, "less political" cities to invest their business dollars in.
  • Training for officers
    Mental health support for officers
    One strike and youre out policy for certain behaviors
    More officers on duty
    More mental health professionals to accompany officers on calls
  • Don’t train police officers using military tactics.
  • Full transparency by Greenberg on all actions going forward and the release of information previously held confidential if the law allows.
  • We need to build a prison and follow through on sentencing. When I feel unsafe to go out and shop at stores or the mall it's a problem. Safety has to be in your own hands and until we the people handle it ourselves than maybe things will get better. For instance, the large group of kids tearing up restaurants, shops, robbing & killing people. Firing back should scare them about doing it next time.
  • Learn. Retrain. Hold themselves accountable.
  • First step is to increase transparency in efforts to rebuild trust. Find a way to encourage the community to engage and become an ally.
  • Better training, more officers, more open communication, improve relationships with community, focus on BIG issues not small petty crimes.
  • I'm not sure, but holding senior leadership - past and present - accountable would be a start. Begin using more social workers for non-violent calls. Civilian review panels with authority to act.
  • Honestly, my first impulse is fire everybody and start over, but eventually we will be back here. We need police but we do not need them going nuts on minor "crimes". Our elected officials need to understand this and order their leaders to go for what does and does not need their time & effort. Why should a cop risk life and limb and terrify motorists for some non-crime like a "seat belt violation" or light out on a car? Its time Kentucky made pot legal and got the cops off that... and then use the extra time and cash police waste to fight real crimes like gangs and real criminals.... not some old lady with a burnt out tail light or some 22 year old with a joint in his hand sitting on his own front porch?
  • Stop acting like a victim. Stop demonizing people who call them out. Definitely delegate mental health calls to another force. Tell Frankfort legislators that their gun policies have created a nightmare.
  • I am honestly not sure. I don't know how to change a whole culture. I think it starts with retraining and a focus on service to the community. Lots of education on poverty, race, systems theory, etc.
    Recruit, retain, and fairly compensate highly qualified individuals to serve.
  • Be more transparent and root out problem officers.
  • Hire a police chief of color that has the urban experience to reorganize the department and change policies that lead to systemic failures. Also, recruit and train better candidates and increase pay.
  • Get rid of those not on the new bus. Establish a stronger budget and prioritize training and hiring of new officers. The staff shortage will not resolve itself for many years. Begin training and requiring your existing force to conduct themselves in a respectful way towards all residence of Louisville.
  • Aggressive independent monitoring of police-citizen encounters along with consistent body camera use.
  • Be abolished.
  • The department needs a strong but fair police chief and a.mayor who will support the necessary changes. Psychological training of prospective officers is badly needed along with more accountability and better pay based on performance.
  • I think higher pay could draw in more stable individuals to be officers. Higher pay and more training in de-escalation could help.
  • Training and enforcement of said trainings.
  • The police force is good at many things and we need to build on those strengths while communicating a clear new mission that will allow us to recruit and train those that will create a new foundation of a force that will serve the needs of the entire community.
  • Fire every officer, supervisor, etc that failed this community and hire people that truly care about those they have committed to protect and serve.
  • Have the media get off their back and let the police do their job. Crime is up as we have less officers and the ones we have can't trust their instincts. Police work has been made into a thankless, and very dangerous job.
  • Pay more and add more training
  • Hire 400 more officers. Let them do their jobs.
    The city can elect real leaders and not soft on crime liberals.
  • More effective recruitment which of course means top of class pay as compared to suburban and peer city police departments. Better and more thorough training especially in the areas of deescalation (sp) and use of force.
  • This is a very complex problem, but step #1 is having the appropriate number of officers. Also need a system were "bad" officers are quickly identified and reprimanded.
  • Enforce conduct codes, rid the department of bad apples, make public examples of both good and bad officers. Hold people accountable for their actions and heap praise on those who are making the extra effort, connecting with community and doing their job to protect and serve.
  • I believe there need to be community ombudsmen on LMPD staff. And living and paid volunteer time spent working in high crime communities.
  • Training all personnel about human rights is a start
  • be more involved in the community
  • LMPD needs to do a much better job in valuing all people and should be held accountable for their bad behavior.
  • Disband. Drastically reduce the size of the force, rely more on and support smaller local departments (Jtown is a great example of a community-focused PD) or create new ones, fund more social workers and other mental health workers to replace police, fund more treatment and housing opportunities.
  • Change the culture
  • See above and improve on it.
  • Hire more police.
  • Drastically overhaul its policing to limit military-style operations to a few well-trusted individuals who deal with true terrorist events and completely re-think the way that all other officers perform their work. END high-speed pursuits that almost always result in a catastrophic incident. Do NOT assume that protestors are criminals. Hire well-vetted, ethical leaders. Do NOT try to cover up police mistakes/misconduct.

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About Power Poll: Power Poll asks questions of the most powerful, influential people in U.S. cities. It is not a scientific survey. But because the people responding to the surveys comprise the leadership structure of their cities, the results afford a fascinating glimpse into the thoughts, opinions, and beliefs of those in a position to make change. Power Poll is distinctly nonpartisan.

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