LMPD Chief Steve Conrad | Photo by Sarah Kelley

The Metro Council Public Safety Committee voted Wednesday to approve a resolution expressing no confidence in the leadership of Louisville Metro Police Department Chief Steve Conrad, which will likely be voted on by the full council at the meeting next Thursday.

The no-confidence resolution has a strong chance of passing next week — as it appears to have the support of a number of council Democrats — but it is not a binding vote, as only Mayor Greg Fischer can remove Conrad from his position.

Despite increasing criticism from council members over the past year as the city’s homicide totals have reached a record high, Fischer has stood fully behind Conrad and called Wednesday’s no-confidence vote “a distraction from the real work many people in the city are doing to fight crime.”

The resolution states “the Council unfortunately believes that the time has come for a change in leadership” at LMPD, adding that Chief Conrad has “lacked transparency” with the council and was slow to acknowledge Louisville’s “gang problem,” all while this year’s homicide rate is on pace to break the record set in 2016.

The resolution goes on to cite last year’s vote of no confidence in Conrad by the local Fraternal Order of Police, stating that “the overall morale within the LMPD is at an all-time low due to the lack of strong leadership heading the department” and officers “are limited in doing the job they have been trained to do.”

In addition to expressing no confidence in Conrad, the resolution “urges Mayor Greg Fisher to ask for Chief Conrad’s resignation and open the selection process for a new LMPD Chief that can lead the men and women of the LMPD with confidence, experience, transparency and forward thinking.”

Republican council members Julie Denton and James Peden both voted for the resolution in the public safety committee on Wednesday, accusing LMPD leadership of repeated “stonewalling” of the council and “manipulation” of crime statistics.

They were joined by in voting yes by Councilman David James, the Democratic chair of the committee who expressed agreement with the criticisms made by Denton and Peden. Though not on the committee, Democrats Brent Ackerson, Vicki Aubrey Welch and Cheri Bryant Hamilton also spoke at the meeting to further criticize Conrad’s leadership, as did Republican council members Marilyn Parker and Robin Engel.

The two votes against the resolution were by Democrats Barbara Sexton Smith and Madonna Flood, who both said changing one position was not a magic cure to decrease murders in Louisville, and that only the mayor had the authority to hire or fire the police chief. Council Democrats Bill Hollander and Brandon Coan also spoke in opposition to the resolution.

On Tuesday, Fischer and Conrad held a press conference to defend their violence reduction strategy and present crime statistics for the first six months of the year. Though both violent crime and property crimes are down slightly from the same period in 2016, murders are up by 20 percent, with Fischer stating that the upward trend in homicides is part of a national trend and the city’s opioid epidemic is “at the root of a lot of these issues.”

Councilwoman Angela Leet, R-7, who was the first council member to publicly call for the ouster of Conrad, criticized the press conference Tuesday by stating that Fischer and Conrad went on television “to pat themselves on the backs” as they downplayed the historic number of murders, countering that “we need leadership, not excuses.”

Councilman David James, D-6, spoke to reporters after the public safety committee voted for a resolution expressing no confidence in LMPD Chief Steve Conrad | Photo by Joe Sonka

After the committee vote on Wednesday, Councilman James — a retired LMPD detective — told reporters that Conrad must step down because “we have an all-time record low morale in our police department.”

“I’ve been involved in the police department for over 30 years now, and I’ve never seen it this bad,” said James. “And (LMPD officers) all say the same thing: He’s a really nice guy, but he wasn’t built for car No. 1. And that’s nothing against Chief Conrad, it’s just that we have a community that’s in trouble and we need to try something new in the form of a new police leader.”

James stood by the claims of several council members in the meeting that the crime statistics cited by LMPD are “manipulated,” and that the raw statistics cited by Ackerson “are really the deep numbers, the real numbers, the accurate numbers, the numbers before they are manipulated and put into the boxes of the FBI report.”

Because James wants a new police chief and Mayor Fischer has made it clear that he will not force Conrad out, IL asked James if he wanted a new mayor, who replied: “I think that we need a new police chief, and that’s what I’m here to talk to you about.” Fischer is running for re-election next year, but so far no challengers have announced a run against him.

Asked if the Fischer administration had put pressure on him to back down from the no-confidence vote, James said, “there has been some — in the form of conversations, phone calls, meetings.”

Wednesday evening, Fischer released a statement calling the no-confidence vote “a distraction from the real work many people in the city are doing to fight crime.”

“As the data clearly shows, overall crime is down 4 percent, even as homicides are up,” read Fischer’s statement. “We’re headed in the right direction, as national experts have said. The best way to help fight crime is to stop pointing fingers and support the work and the plan of Chief Conrad and LMPD — anything else is not helpful to our citizens that deserve all of our support.”

Joe Sonka
Joe Sonka is a staff writer at Insider Louisville focusing on government, politics, education and public safety. He is a former news editor and staff writer at LEO Weekly and has also freelanced for The Nation and ThinkProgress. He has won first place awards from the Louisville Metro chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists in the categories of Health Reporting, Enterprise Reporting, Government/Politics, Minority/Women’s Affairs Reporting, Continuing Coverage and Best Blog. Email him at [email protected]