Metro Council members blister Louisville Police Chief Steve Conrad's overhaul of LMPD command staff
The shakeup comes as the city has grappled with records murder rates and a scandal involving a youth program.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Louisville Police Chief Steve Conrad announced a series of promotions and demotions on his command staff Thursday, drawing fierce blowback from a bipartisan group of Metro Council members and prompting a possible no-confidence vote in Conrad next week.
Roughly half of the council's members -- some speaking with visible emotion -- appeared at an afternoon press conference that included multiple calls for Conrad's dismissal.
"I want you to hear me loud and clear when I say we are tired of the body counts and the cover-ups," said Democratic council member David James, a former officer and chair of the council's public safety committee. James said the chief needs to resign.
But a defiant Conrad told reporters late Thursday afternoon that he does not plan to step down.
“I work for the mayor, and I am not concerned about anything beyond making sure that I meet the needs of the mayor,” Conrad said.
The changes largely affect the city's patrol divisions, whose commanders report directly to Conrad, and come as the city has grappled with record murder rates and a scandal involving a youth program. Some council members questioned the timing of the move as a political ploy.
Mayor Greg Fischer said in a statement that he "fully" supports Conrad.
"I trust that Chief Conrad, like the leader of every department in my administration, uses their experience and data to adjust their leadership teams when needed and when opportunities arise to meet our city’s goals and challenges," Fischer said.
Conrad's changes, outlined in a letter to the council, included a change in rank, to lieutenant, for a popular officer, Maj. Jimmy Harper, according to council members. Several of them implored the chief to rescind Harper's demotion, citing his work at various times in their neighborhoods.
Harper did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment.
Speaking directly to Conrad, council member Cheri Bryant-Hamilton said: "Why is Harper the scapegoat for your poor leadership?" To applause from her colleagues, she said Harper should "get your position, chief."
Robin Engel, caucus chair of the council's minority Republican members, said he will seek to get GOP members on board with the no-confidence resolution James plans to introduce next week.
"We truly have a leadership problem. ... The buck stops at the top, chief," Engel said.
The president of the River City FOP, Dave Mutchler, released a statement Thursday condemning the move, calling it "disturbing that a true leader of men and women of the LMPD has been fired from his command position."
"Removing Harper is creating chaos in an already unstable department in the middle of a manpower, homicide and overdose crisis," Mutchler said. "...It is an astonishing decision demonstrating how completely out of touch the chief is with our members and the community."
Sources told WDRB News that Conrad gave officers the option of retiring or being demoted. It was not immediately clear which officers were given that choice. Council members said Harper chose the demotion rather than retire. Maj. Ryan Bates would replace him as commander of the 2nd Division.
The promotions include three lieutenants who will be elevated to the rank of major. Conrad's letter says they are Lieutenants Joshua Judah, who as major would command the 4th Division; Jamey Schwab, who will command the 8th Division; and Kimberly Burbrink, who will command the 7th Division.
All of the changes, including the rank changes, will be official Friday.
"These promotions are a result of three anticipated retirements within my command staff. As part of this process, I will be reassigning several members of my staff to different positions throughout the department. This course of action is to ensure that we have the right people, in the right positions, to affectedly (sic) lead this department in the right direction," Conrad wrote.
This story will be updated.
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