LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - A firestorm has been ignited after LMPD Chief Steve Conrad finds himself in the middle of a public relations nightmare.
This comes on the heels of a WAVE 3 News Troubleshooter investigation that exposed a record number of officers leaving the department.
Conrad was questioned about it Wednesday during a Public Safety Committee hearing, and stated the morale of his officers was not his responsibility. The chief later apologized to the officers for his comments.
Thursday, Mayor Greg Fischer told WAVE 3 News he does not believe morale is a problem.
“And if you talk with the rank-and-file police officers like I do, you would see that there’s not,” Fischer told WAVE 3 News.
But, that could be up for debate, especially considering the 2016 no-confidence vote the Fraternal Order of Police gave Conrad.
When asked about that, Fischer discarded it, too, stating that the idea that officers don’t feel supported by Conrad is completely “off-base.”
“By the FOP, not by the rank-and-file police officers, so most every chief in America has had a vote of no confidence,” Fischer said.
FOP President Nicolai Jilek said the FOP vote is significant.
“We are the officers,” Jilek said. “One hundred percent of LMPD are members of this lodge.”
Jilek added that if Fischer wants another vote, he’s got it.
“If he wants to call that into question, maybe we should have another vote of no confidence, and that’s something that we could easily settle,” Jilek said.
Jilek also said there is a significant morale problem within the department.
“The officers with LMPD, we do the right thing most of the time and we need to have someone there who, when we do our jobs the way we are asked to do them, for someone to stand up and say, ‘Yes, this is how my guys do it,’ and to explain to the public what policing is and how it functions and how it works and that it isn’t always a pretty thing to watch,” Jilek said.
Councilman says Fischer wants the public to feel some pain
The questions about Chief Conrad weren’t the only ones Mayor Fischer was asked Thursday.
Some council members said the canceling of a recruit class was not because of the budget, but rather, because of politics, and that the money is not being spent on purpose.
“There’s more than enough money to hire a police recruit class, it’s in the budget, he could do it today if he wanted to,” Councilman Kevin Kramer told WAVE 3 News.
Kramer said a number of officer salaries are already allocated, meaning the money is sitting right there in the budget.
“But he’s not doing it because he wants to be able to point to us and say, ‘Look, we can’t afford police officers,’” Kramer said. “He’s saying it now.”
The reason, Kramer said, is so that Fischer can come back next year and ask again for a tax increase.
“He wants people to experience the pain so he can come back later and say, ‘Oh look, this is how bad it is,’” Kramer said, adding that the money has been allocated to re-open a library the mayor refuses to open.
When asked about the money allocated for officer positions and whether there was a need to cancel a recruit class, Fischer pointed the finger right back at the Metro Council.
“Well, it’s ironic when they vote to have $25 million less revenue, that where the cuts are going to come from? Public safety is 55 percent of our budget,” Fischer said.
“You’re seeing some of the council members wanting to see both ways, that they vote not to increase revenue, and now when resources get cut, now they all of a sudden say well this can’t happen,” he continued. “That’s not how reality works.”
Councilman Anthony Piagentini said LMPD has actually put millions of dollars back into the general fund in the past. The money could have been used to save recruit classes and officer positions, he said.
“We gave the chief more than what he asked for in his budget this year,” Piagentini said. “The mayor didn’t ask for a third recruit class. In fact, he canceled it before we even had the opportunity to debate the budget.”
Piagentini added that there are a number of vacancies that are funded that could have been filled. Kramer agreed.
“The pain we’re experiencing is a direct result of the decision this mayor is making,” he said.
Fischer denies those claims, saying that the pension crisis is a reality and some things will have to be cut.
“Being a police officer is hard enough,” Fischer said. “When you’re not paid as much as you should be paid, and when you’re pension benefits are being threatened, it’s a tough time to be a police officer.”
Kramer also said it’s a tough job, while adding that’s why supporting the city’s officers is so important. He said he was disappointed with Conrad’s statements about officer morale being more the responsibility of the sergeants on the department, not his.
“My heart just goes out to those officers and the men and women doing that work,” he said. “You are soo appreciated by us on the Metro Council.”