Police chief already hated by most of department says their mental well-being isn’t his problem

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Louisville Metro Police Chief Steve Conrad has survived multiple controversies: a sex abuse scandal involving officers, a historic spike in homicides and two no-confidence votes.

Can he do it again?

He now has to try to overcome his latest comments saying officer morale is NOT his job.

According to the Courier-Journal, most of the Metro Council believe that leadership is lacking in this case.  

“The mayor does nothing but defend him and defend him and defend,” said Councilman James Peden. “I think the remarks should have an impact on his tenure, but I don’t think it will because the mayor has come out and said that ‘I still love him.'”

The debate about Conrad’s leadership was rekindled last Wednesday when the chief was asked in a meeting of Louisville Metro Council’s public safety committee whether he felt responsibility for the morale of his officers.

Twice, he said no. 

“I am saying morale is set by each person individually,” he responded. “Every commanding officer in this department has a responsibility for morale, but at the end of the day, everyone is responsible for their own morale. 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. They’re the ones that are assigning people to details. They’re the ones that are assigning different cars to the officers that don’t have cars assigned yet.”

Conrad apologized later Wednesday night.

“I know that every action I take, that every decision I make, has a profound impact on you, on your family and on this department,” Conrad said in a video, addressing his officers. “… Like you, I try to do my best each and every day. And I apologize, because today I came up short. You deserve better.” 

Peden said it was easily the worst leadership comment he’d ever heard.

“To have the chief of police sit in this council chambers and say that the morale problem that we have in this police department is on the shoulders of our sergeants? I have to say, guys, gals, those of you out there on the streets everyday doing the real work: My heart goes out to you,” Councilman Kevin Kramer said.

Councilman David James, a former police officer and frequent Conrad critic, said the remarks were a “reaffirmation of his lack of ability to lead Louisville Metro Police going forward.” 

“This is leadership 101. How can you justify your police chief saying that about his men and women putting their lives on the line for the community? Saying he has no responsibility for their morale?” James said. “There is not one leadership class, course, training in the United States of America that would agree with him. Not a single one. I don’t think he should force the mayor to fire him. I think he should resign.”

Mayor Greg Fischer issued a statement Wednesday in Conrad’s defense:

“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.” 

Nicolai Jilek, president of the union representing Louisville Metro Police officers, said in a statement that “the chief’s remarks and the mayor’s inability to grasp their significance confirmed for members that they cannot expect any real effort will be made to improve how LMPD operates in regard to our morale.”

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Police chief already hated by most of department says their mental well-being isn't his problem

 

Sheriff Berl Perdue, the president of Kentucky’s Fraternal Order of Police, took a swing at Conrad in a series of tweets.  

As the Sheriff of Clark County, Kentucky, I know the importance of providing for and motivating my people. It is my responsibility as the Sheriff to look out for my employees. This significantly impacts my deputies’ morale.

As the President of the Kentucky FOP, it upsets me that a police chief would ever make the comment that he is not responsible for his officer’s morale. Andy Dunn said it best, ‘leadership is inspiring people. Management is keeping the trains running on time.’ 

Chief Conrad seems more interested in keeping the trains running on time than he is in attracting and retaining the best police officers for his agency. We all know how to do this:

better pay, better benefits, and championing a basic level of respect that we all deserve as human beings. The Kentucky State Fraternal Order of Police stands firm in the commitment to protect working cops across the state, because there are very few else that will.”

 

While the chief “serves at the pleasure of the mayor,” who continues to support Conrad, James added that he’d heard from members of Fischer’s administration who expressed “disbelief at the chief’s reaction to that question.” 

Speaking to the Courier-Journal, Skylar Graudick, a former LMPD officer, said Conrad is a terrible leader. He may have apologized, Graudick said, but his first answer was revealing.

“People have different definitions of leadership, but I think he fails at every single definition,” he said. 

Graudick said he left the department, despite having a pension and insurance, because he couldn’t see himself carrying on one second longer under LMPD’s leadership. 

“No officer believes the chief supports them, or even understands what they go through or understands how the decisions he makes affects them,” Graudick said. “I don’t think he does. I think he’s completely out of touch.”

Jilek, the FOP president, added in his statement that, for many officers, the way to improve 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,” he said. “Being short-staffed and overworked is a dangerous recipe for disaster, both for copy 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.”

This is not the first time that Conrad has lost the confidence of the Metro Council, which declared in August if 2017 that it wanted a new top cop for the city.

The council voted 13-9 to declare that it no longer supports Conrad’s ability to lead the department.

Under the resolution, which doesn’t carry the weight of law, the council urges Mayor Greg Fisher to ask for Conrad’s resignation and open the selection process for a new chief.

Councilman James, who spearheaded the measure, said it sends a clear message that, “the council 100 percent supports our police department and we believe public safety is the number one responsibility of government.”

Mayor Fischer described the effort in a statement as a distraction from what he said is the real work that residents and police are doing.

“Our citizens expect Metro Council to work with Chief Conrad and LMPD to help improve our crime fighting plan,” Fischer said. “Instead, too many (council) members are just critics and simplistically target one person for a complex problem … Chief Conrad and the dedicated men and women of the LMPD have my full support and appreciation, and clearly that of the vast majority of Louisville citizens.”

One year prior to that vote of no confidence, the local police union also voted to show that very few in the police ranks in Louisville had any faith in the chief.

With about half the membership of the police union voting, fewer than 2 percent said they had confidence in Conrad’s leadership.

The River City Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 614 held a “no-confidence” with 601 sworn members casting a ballot, the union announced.

That vote showed that barely half the force backs the chief, who has held the title since 2012.

Statistics detailed in the Courier-Journal show that approximately 95 percent of those who voted hold the rank of sergeant, officer or detective, according to the union. Nearly all the department’s 1,241 sworn members are union members.

The ballot asked members seven questions, including if they believed the department has enough officers to function effectively and if Conrad and his staff “appropriately and efficiently assign and utilize officers”; 99 percent said no to both questions.

97 percent said they believe they’re aren’t adequately supported by the chief and his staff, the tally showed.

90 percent said they didn’t believe that the department’s buildings and offices are maintained “at an acceptable level as to allow members to work in a safe and healthy environment.”

Only 5 percent said the chief and his staff listen to input from officers and the community about how to respond to crime in the city.

There is truth to the thought process that you must love what you do, or you will do it begrudgingly. However, anyone who has ever served in the military or emergency responder community can tell you. People in the ranks look to their leadership to establish and maintain morale, esprit de corps and overall welfare of those that follow them.

I reached out to a handful of law enforcement officers that I know. I asked them what they would do if their chief uttered these same words. Their responses were exactly what I expected them to be.

“Goodbye. Time to find a different department,” said one. If it isn’t the chief’s job, then whose is it?”

“I would not be happy with that comment at all,” said another. “Morale is essential to any workplace. That is just poor leadership.”

“I’d tell him that he needs to find a new job, responded a third. “Morale is everything, whether it is a police department or an oil company.”

As it was asked by an officer friend of mine:

“If not your job Chief, then whose?”

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