LMPD :: Louisville Metro Police Department

Erika Shields says time as LMPD chief cut short for 'political' reasons


Erika Shields' tenure as chief of the Louisville Metro Police Department began at a rocky time for department, in the wake of the killing of Breonna Taylor, city-wide protests and the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

It will end in January, Mayor-elect Craig Greenberg announced last month, as a new city administration searches for a new director for the department.

On Thursday, Shields said she feels her time was cut too short, adding that she'd like to stay to continue the work she's been doing with LMPD.

"I believe in this department and I know what we're doing," she said. "I know we're doing great work. Listen: We have more work to do. And there's areas that we have not done nearly enough. I will own that all day long. But for the two-year span that we've had - the advancement and the stabilizations we've obtained - I will stand on all day long."

Shields acknowledged it's normal for leadership changes to happen when a new mayor takes office but she is frustrated because she feels the department has been politicized and there hasn't been acknowledgement of the positive changes made at LMPD.

"I've been asked to leave without any discussion about what work we've done," she said. "I mean, that was a decision that was made? I mean, if you have no idea what is occurring internally and you've already come to that decision, I would have to believe it's political. And that, again, is a mayor's prerogative, and I support that, which is why I'll step away. But I also will say it's not OK to just then start with broad strokes, say the department is doing business as usual. That is factually wrong. And I owe it to the men and women who've busted their tails for two years for me to speak up and say, 'No. Timeout. That's wrong.'"

Shields lauded her tenure, citing statistics showing that violent crime is down 17% and shootings are down 30%, according to LMPD reports.

"We've done so many things that will position this department so, down the road, it can truly be a flagship department for policing in the country," she said. "So, the accomplishments are numerous, and I am only too happy to rattle them off. That being said, when you have the level of instability that I came into and the systems that were so broken, you're not gonna fix this in two years. You have to. It's gonna take time, but we are on the right path."

Beyond that, she said both the department's Accountability Bureau and the inclusion of civilian advisors in its training academy have been positive improvements.

One of the areas she feels needs more work is in the improvement of community trust.

"There are so many things that are in motion, but for that to be successful, you need people to be showing up engaged and wanting to be here," she said. "And I am very concerned about morale and where we'll go. And I think that's one of the reasons it's really important to me that the narrative not be that it's business as usual. Because that's factually wrong. I can push back on that. I have endless data points, speaking points, successes to show that men and women have driven change for the last two years. And for this department to be politicized so that it's a speaking point is completely unacceptable. It is not fair to the officers who are out here putting their life on the line every day. They have done such hard work, and to suggest that it's business as usual, it's just completely erroneous."

In a written statement Thursday afternoon, Greenberg said: "We will be announcing a new Interim Chief very soon," he said. I look forward to working with the new Chief and everyone at LMPD to make our city safer and move forward in a new direction. I respect and admire our hardworking LMPD officers who share our city's common goals of reducing violent crime, improving public safety, and engaging with the community."

Shields said she knows someone will be following in her footsteps and she has high hopes - and concerns - for her successor.

"My hope is, one, that they're seasoned and that they're a really strong chief, because I am very concerned," she said. "I'm very concerned. ... We're shifting and changing culture. You don't change a culture in two years. Not when the systems are so widely broken as they were. So this department could just as readily backslide. So it's really important that there be a strong chief with integrity and who is willing to stand up for the department but also to the incoming administration when they're being politicized."

She said that means having a police chief who is more than just a yes-man (or woman) for the mayor.

"That just goes with the nature of the beast," she said. "If you're a quality police chief, you are not going to be hand-and-step the whole way with your mayor. You just cannot, because the relationship is such that you need to have the same vision and the same goals. But you also need to be able to step aside and say, 'No, that's just not consistent. We're being politicized.'"

Shields came in after Taylor's killing, when distrust of police was particularly high, and said the community disconnect was so dramatic it will take more than two years and a couple of new programs to mend that. However, she said new programs like the Youth Advisory Council have been a good step forward.

"For me, the most important thing is I can walk around this department now, (and) I can see the officers with their heads held high," she said. "They're proud to be working here. They're proud to serve the community. They're understanding and responsive to doing business differently. ... That, to me, means everything. For me, what I would say is a disappointment is not having the opportunity to push this further along and I really just hope that, as an outsider looking at this, I don't see that the city has slid backward over the next couple of years."

As for what her plans for the future, Shields only smiles.

"Oh, I don't know," she said. "I'll let you read about it."