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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Concerned about police staffing levels, Metro Council leaders in both parties are pushing for an independent analysis of how many officers the city needs.
Council President Jim King, a Democrat, and Republican council member James Peden, chairman of the public safety committee, said Thursday they are weighing hiring a consultant to assess what's known as "authorized strength."
Police staffing was among the topics addressed when Police Chief Steve Conrad and Dave Mutchler, president of the River City Fraternal Order of Police, appeared at a special meeting of the public safety panel on Wednesday.
Elected leaders have raised questions about the number of officers on patrol in the wake of last month's youth mob attacks, which involved as many as 200 people, according to police estimates.
Mutchler told council members that he couldn't remember a time in which the police department operated at its authorized strength – 1,281 officers.
"We don't even have the police officers that we should have, that we're authorized," Mutchler said. "I think that's a good start."
Mutchler acknowledged that he wasn't sure how the total staffing number is computed – a point King echoed.
"I'm really concerned about that," King said Wednesday. "If we don't know where that number comes from, I don't know why we manage to it."
The following day, at a meeting of the council's Democrats, King raised the possibility of having an outside expert evaluate the city's needs before council members begin deliberating a spending plan for next year.
Following a meeting of the council's Republican caucus on Thursday, Peden said his members also favor an independent study. The analysis could include factors such as population and population distribution, he said.
In addition, Peden noted that the staffing goal being used simply adds numbers created by the former Jefferson County and old City of Louisville police departments.
"That's our authorized staffing number and we've been using that now for 12 years without questioning whether that's correct," Peden said.
Mutchler and Conrad provided sometimes differing numbers in response to committee members' questions earlier this week.
Conrad said there are 1,211 officers on the Louisville Metro Police Department payroll. Based on current vacancies and historic trends in attrition and retirement, he expects 1,229 officers by June 30.
Mutchler stressed another figure – that there are 1,169 "sworn, solo police officers" who are not in training or in a probationary period. That amounts to 112 below the level authorized, he said.
"If we want to maintain our authorized strength, what has to be done is: You have to have 1,280 officers on the street and 70 more in the academy ready for the attrition for those folks that are going to leave," he said.
What makes that difficult, he said, are actions like canceling a recruiting class last year amid budget concerns.
Peden said council members can avoid making the staffing study a "political issue" by hiring an outside consultant, in much the same way the city evaluated firehouses across the city in 2005.
"It worked because it took the politics out of it," he said. "And so I think we can do the same thing with this."