LMPD :: Louisville Metro Police Department

Louisville Metro Police reorganization leaves lingering questions amid chief's warning


Louisville Metro Police Chief Steve Conrad unveiled a reorganization Tuesday that he said will create a leaner, more focused department amid a loss of officers and budget cuts.

But the restructuring also leaves questions about the future, with Conrad warning that it was "only the start of more difficult decisions to come."

Conrad's changes will go into effect beginning Dec. 1. They include:

  • Merging the Narcotics and Ninth Mobile divisions into one, responsible for "narcotics and violence interdiction investigations," under one commander.
  • Consolidating the Special Operations and Community Services divisions into one, commanded by a major.
  • Moving the fugitive squad from under the Ninth Mobile Division to the Major Crimes Division.

The changes will result in the loss of two majors through attrition, he said, but they won't mean losing patrol officers, who are already flocking from the department.

Additional changes to the internal structure could come in the future, the chief said.

The department has nearly 1,200 sworn officers, but Conrad said he expects to see the rolls decline by dozens by July 1.

The city also faces another budget challenge in 2020, as its state-set pension bill continues to balloon. Without new revenue, Louisville officials could be forced to again pare down the city budget.

Conrad has hinted that future budget cuts could mean the city sees reduced services from police.

"We are frustrated that we've seen our violent crime rise here of late, and that is a trend that we hope to address through these changes, but we are doing more with less," Conrad said. "And we are doing more with less because we don't have the resources that we once had."

Here's what to know about the reorganization and what people are saying:

The merger of Ninth Mobile and Narcotics

Perhaps the most noteworthy move Conrad made is combining the Ninth Mobile and Narcotics divisions, under one commander.

Ninth Mobile, a flexible unit without geographical boundaries, has worked on gun and drug cases across Jefferson County, able to focus on specific offenders and violent crimes. But it came under scrutiny for its use of traffic stops as a tactic this year, after a seemingly improper traffic stop went viral and caused a community uproar.

On Tuesday, Conrad pitched the move to combine it with Narcotics as a way to take investigations to "the next level," arguing that it will make two units that already tend to work on similar issues more focused in crime-fighting efforts.

"There has been some synergy ... of the two coming together, working together," he said. "But I think actually having them together in the same division, although in different units, will give us the opportunity to look for advantages where intelligence and information lead us to addressing certain people in our community."

Metro Council President David James, D-6th District, a frequent critic of Conrad, praised the move as logical for two units that were doing narcotics work but in separate silos: "Now, they'll be working together with the same set of stats to report from and they'll share information."

But at least one former LMPD officer, Skylar Graudick, said combining two units and expecting them to be better than before doesn't make sense.

He argued that merging the two could lead to less proactive policing — as opposed to reactive policing that responds to crimes after they happen. And he worried it could hurt work police do focusing on drug crimes, which Conrad has cited as the "fuel" behind violent crime.

"With record shootings and murders, you're taking away the ability for the city to solve those problems," said Graudick, a former LMPD lobbyist in Frankfort. "Officers can respond all day and put up caution tape at scenes, but that doesn't mean they're getting solved, because officers are already short-staffed.

"It's already hard enough. Now you want them to do more with less? Again?"

Reductions in manpower

Patrol officers are "where the rubber meets the road," Conrad said Tuesday, stressing the importance of having officers to respond to and prevent crimes.

Everything else, he said, is subject to reductions.

That could mean smaller specialized units and divisions like Ninth Mobile, Narcotics, Community Services and others. Could that mean moving people in those units to patrol duties? "Absolutely," Conrad said Tuesday.

It's more likely that those units will shrink through attrition, he added, but it's expected that, over time, there will be fewer people working in those divisions because the positions will be needed in patrol. (He's said that no officers, aside from the majors overseeing different units, will immediately see job duties change.)

Nicolai Jilek, president of the union representing police officers, said it's another example of officers being forced to do more with less.

"My concern is that we're just going to reach a breaking point where, despite all our good efforts, we're not going to be able to provide adequate public safety anymore," he said.

Jilek said he didn't have specific concerns about the mergers, adding that a shrinking number of officers should mean administrative changes.

"People need to understand that by the time the average Louisvillian realizes LMPD is not functioning, it's too late," he said. "We are struggling to meet the public safety needs of the city as it stands. When we ultimately fail, it will be manifested in tragedy."

The next Louisville budget

The moves announced this week were cast as a second step in the police department's response to its reduced budget.

The first, Conrad said, was eliminating the department's school resource officer program and sending those officers to other assignments. What comes next, though, isn't clear.

Part of the reason for the allusion to future pain could be that the department and other agencies across Louisville Metro Government are waiting to see how things pan out with the next city budget.

Louisville Metro Council members voted this year to reject an insurance premium tax increase, but it could change that stance before the next budget cycle, and raise more revenue.

It's also possible the state could listen to the pleas from Louisville officials and other municipalities and give local governments more diverse revenue options, by letting large cities collect a restaurant tax or some other taxing option.

Conrad has said that these latest changes were made with a goal of accomplishing reductions with "minimal impact on our services."

But that only becomes more difficult with additional cuts.

"Because of these challenges, we're having to do more with less," he said. "No matter the staffing or structure, we're committed to do what we can do to reduce crime and to make this city safer."