LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - In a fiery exchange, LMPD Chief Steve Conrad was grilled by council members after stating that the morale of his officers was their responsibility.
Since July, 15 percent of the departments officers have left, as WAVE 3 News exposed for the first time in two, back-to-back Troubleshooter Investigations.
Conrad called the number of officers leaving a slow-moving 'train wreck.' He said by July, 2020, the end of this fiscal year, the department expects to have 72 fewer officers. He blamed pension concerns as the main reason why officers are leaving.
He did, however confirm to the council what was in WAVE 3 News' investigations, including that officers are in fact quitting to go to other departments, not just retiring.
But, when asked if low morale had anything to do with the departures, Conrad ignited a firestorm.
"Do you consider any level of morale of the officers your responsibility?" Council President David James asked.
"I think the morale of our officers is up to the individual," Conrad said. "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. It is the same for each and every one of us."
"As the leader of the department, you're saying you have no responsibility for the morale of the officers that work for you?" James pressed.
"I'm saying that morale is set by each person individually. Our sergeants have more impact on the morale of our patrol officers because they're the ones that say yes or no when people want to take a vacation day," Conrad said. "They're the ones that are assigning people to details. They're the ones assigning different cars to the officers that don't have cars assigned yet."
That's when councilman James Peden jumped in, frustrated with Conrad's response.
"That morale comment has got to be the single worst leadership comment I've ever heard in my life," Peden told the Chief. "You are the head of the organization."
Peden continued, “The morale of your officers is not your problem, it’s theirs and how they come to work? That’s crazy that you even uttered it twice. He gave you a chance to take it back and fix it and you said it twice so lets, oh my God,” Peden exclaimed. “But for you to say it’s all on them when they come to work every day? Wow!”
Conrad received a vote of no confidence by his own officers through the Fraternal Order of Police in December, 2016.
That was followed by Metro Council giving him a vote of no confidence in August, 2017. They also held a press conference asking for Conrad to step down.
Wednesday, Conrad said his staff is preparing for the fewer number of officers. He said they are looking at the best ways to deal with the shortage while trying to still keep people safe.
It was July when WAVE 3 News Troubleshooters reported 119 officers had left the department in the span of a year. Since that exclusive investigation, WAVE 3 News confirmed last week another 46 officers decided to leave, too.
"All positions, all divisions, all units are being considered for how they may be able to operate more efficiently and continue to be effective despite having to do that job with fewer people," Conrad said.
Conrad said patrol and investigations will remain high priorities.
"I will assure you that no matter our staffing numbers, we're committed to our mission which is to fairly and ethically provide policing services that are intended to prevent and control crime," he said.
Mayor Greg Fischer made the decision to cut a recruit class as part of his budget earlier this year. That was a move criticized by some council members, stating the decision was made by the Mayor before giving them a chance to see if the class could be saved, such as they did with a library and community pools.
Conrad said the real impact of the fewer officers will be felt in the first quarter of next year since there won’t be new officers there to replace those who have left.
A couple of hours after the meeting, Conrad posted a video apologizing to his officers.
“One of the questions that came up was whether I was responsible for your morale. Unfortunately I answered that I was not,” Conrad said. Conrad stated that while an argument could be made that everyone is responsible for their morale, he said it was “unfair.”
“I know that every action I take, that every decision I make has a profound opinion on you, on your family, and on this department. I respect each of you, you do an amazing job,” Conrad continued. You take great risks to make Louisville a safer city and I absolutely believe we are making a difference.”
“Like you I try to do my best each and every day, and I apologize because today, I came up short. You deserve better.”
Shortly after that video was posted, Peden responded to Conrad’s apology, asking if it was sincere.
Peden told WAVE 3 News that he believes Conrad still appears to believe that what he said in front of Metro Council was accurate. Peden went on to say he thinks Conrad posted the apology as a way to fix things with the administration.
Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer’s office released a statement Wednesday evening, saying “There is no stronger supporter of our men and women in blue than Chief Conrad. He always does what he thinks is best for officers and the community. The Chief is reaching out to officers tonight to express his support.”
River City FOP president Nicolai Jilek released a statement Wednesday evening on Facebook. It reads in part “LMPD officers know and understand morale and don’t need it explained or its significance dismissed. Leadership from the top down directly influences and shapes the environment we work in.” To read the full statement, click here.