LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Things got fiery between Louisville's police chief and Metro Council members during the council's scheduled public safety committee Wednesday.
The meeting was called to discuss staffing and retirement issues leading to fewer officers on the streets. At times, it was contentious, even leading to an apology from Chief Steve Conrad for some of his comments.
Conrad said more officers are retiring due to changes to the state's pension plan, and others are leaving to work at higher paying departments. An entire recruiting class was also eliminated due to the city's budget problems.
He said 39 officers have retired and 14 have resigned since July 1. And he anticipates 72 fewer officers will be on Louisville streets by the end of the current fiscal year.
In addition to pension and pay issues, some Metro Council members believe low morale is also a factor forcing officers out.
Councilman David James asked Conrad if he considered any level of morale of the officers is his responsibility.
"I think the morale of our officers is up to the individual," Conrad responded. "It is how you come to work and what you expect to do and how you're going to do it. My morale every day is my responsibility."
Many council members were displeased with that answer.
"That morale comment has got to be the single worst leadership comment I have ever heard in my life," Councilman James Peden said. "You are the head of the organization."
Hours after the meeting, Conrad released a video statement about his comments on morale, saying they were unfair and apologizing to his officers.
"Like you, I try to do my best each and every day," Conrad said in the video. "And I apologize because today I came up short. You deserve better."
LMPD just graduated a class of recruits last week. The next class is in February, but in the meantime, some Metro Council members have big concerns about the impact the reduction of officers will have on public safety.
"I need help," Councilwoman Donna Purvis said. "I need more officers, if you can give me, in District 5, in the west end ... We're dying west of Ninth Street. I don't want to continue to see this."
Much of the focus of the heated discussion was on money and leadership.
"I was expecting the leadership of this council to do what they needed to do to generate the revenue so we didn't have to deal with a $25 million gap in our budget," Conrad said.
Several council members stood by their decision not to raise taxes.
"I don't back up one step and apologize for the fact that there aren't enough officers on the street," Councilman Kevin Kramer said. "If you wanted a recruit class tomorrow, all you'd have to do is ask the mayor to allow you that money that's already there to be used for a recruit class."
There seemed to be a disconnect between Conrad and a few council members on whether there is in fact money that could be used for something like an additional recruit class, as Kramer referred to.
Louisville Metro Government sent WDRB News the following statement as clarification:
"The budget anticipates turnover among employees – therefore already factored in vacancies and how those vacancies impact the funding level. That’s why we publish an average filled count for each position to correspond to the funding level. On May 30, Chief Conrad told the Budget Committee he expected to lose 120 officers in FY20, while hiring only 96 – 48 in both March and June 2020. Metro Council should be aware of the relationship between funding and personnel – as evidenced by the fact they amended the FY20 budget ordinance to add funding so the class planned for March could begin in February. Even with that additional funding, LMPD personnel funding remained flat at $179.9 million compared to the previous year while their pension cost increased by $5.7 million. That means less funding for officers as the Chief testified before them." - Daniel Frockt, Louisville Metro Government CFO.
In a statement released Wednesday night, President of the River City Fraternal Order of Police Nicolai Jilek said, "The Chief's remarks during the Council meeting and the Mayor's inability to grasp their significance just confirmed for many of my members that they cannot expect any real effort will be made to improve how LMPD operates in regard to our morale."
My statement regarding this afternoon’s events: pic.twitter.com/a3qxWvZT6w— Nicolai Jilek (@jilekFOP) September 19, 2019
"LMPD officers know and understand morale and don't need it explained or its significance dismissed," Jilek wrote. "Leadership from the top down directly influences and shapes the environment we work in. That leadership absolutely plays a significant part in how you build and maintain morale, and in this dangerous high risk profession it has even greater importance. The fact is that for many officers, the way they will improve their morale is to change their environment by leaving this department to find supportive leadership somewhere else.
" ... Ultimately, the exodus of LMPD's officers and the city's utter inability to recruit/retain will directly translate to a reduction in public safety and service: each officer who stays can only do so much, work only so many hours in a day and answer only so many calls for service in a shift. Being short-staffed and over-worked is a dangerous recipe for disaster, both for cops and the community.
"The train that is in this 'slow train wreck' may already be off the rails and all of Louisville is on it."
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