LMPD :: Louisville Metro Police Department

Police chief defends pending patrol changes


Saying an 8-hour shift increases the number of patrol officers on the street on any given day, Louisville Metro Police Chief Steve Conrad promoted the benefits of changing officers' work schedules to Metro Council members Wednesday.

But council members openly questioned the wisdom and consequences of altering shifts, which will result in a lower number of on-duty patrol officers in certain areas of the city and during special events.

"I wanted our officers to spend no more than half of their time handling calls for service," Conrad told the council's Public Safety Committee as residents and council members express worry about a spike in violence. "I didn't want them spending their entire shift going from call to call to call. I wanted them to be proactive when they saw problems and have the opportunity to get out of their vehicles and really be involved in community policing."

The workload changes are based on findings from a $68,000 study spurred by a downtown melee last year led by a group of teenagers. It showed Louisville's police force has an adequate number of officers but that their shift schedules are "inefficient" and that around 800 patrol officers are not well-deployed.

Conrad said the police department agreed with six recommendations, which included abandoning the current 10-hour and hybrid work schedule. It will reduce the number of days off for officers while increasing the number of patrol officers on the street by 14 percent, according to the study.

That will also lower the amount of officers assigned to certain neighborhoods, mainly suburban divisions, a concern among council members who represent those area.

"I think people are going to be really concerned that they're going to lose some of their patrol power compared to what they have now," said Councilwoman Julie Denton.

Under the chief's reorganization plan, the department's 3rd and 4th Divisions - which represent Pleasure Ridge Park, Valley Station and Fairdale; and Smoketown, South Louisville and Old Louisville, respectively - would get about eight additional patrol officers. Other divisions, such as the patrols that cover the Middletown, Lyndon and Oxmoor area, will see the minimum number of officers assigned to them decrease by six.

Denton, R-19th District, said she is going to give the chief some leeway, but that the changes make her nervous given that fewer officers will be on patrol in her district.

"In my district, while we may not have a lot of murders or big crimes, there is the crime of speeding and the people living there are going to be really upset that their tax dollars aren't being spent on officers to take care of those type of crimes."

Councilman James Peden asked the chief whether assigned staffing numbers could be reduced further during special events, such as the Kentucky Derby. Conrad said the city has about 100 special events each year that there "no ways to work around" and will require further reductions to appropriately staff those occasions.

"Now you just said we have built-in situations when they're not going to be there," said Peden, R-23rd. "That's where we all get in a little kerfuffle."

The chief also discussed re-branding of the controversial VIPER Unit into a special task force that will now be called the Ninth Mobile Division. Conrad said the unit will continue its violent crime focus with 43-sworn personnel but that its members will now be uniformed.

Activists who closed traffic in front of police headquarters this year called for the unit to be dismantled, citing its practices and misconduct by its officers.

The former head of the VIPER Unit, Lt. Kit Steimle, for instance, retired last year just months after being the focus of an internal investigation. Another former VIPER member, Detective Carl Payne, was charged with three counts of first-degree official misconduct over allegations he propositioned women for sex in exchange for help with their court cases.

"As far as I'm concerned it's more about intimidation rather than having good law enforcement and policing," said photographer Sowande Malone, who lives in western Louisville and has participated in some of the recent demonstrations. "It seems like it's more about flexing muscle and treating everybody like a criminal from what I've seen and heard from people."

But Conrad has defended the unit as necessary to combat some of the city's more violent offenders. The chief's office said that since its inception three years ago, the unit has seized more than 930 guns off the street and made more than 1,800 arrests.

LMPD has said the staffing changes and the revamped mobile unit will coincide and occur this month.