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Louisville police chief Shields to resign when Greenberg takes office

Roberto Roldan

Louisville Police Chief Erika Shields, who took the reins of the troubled department following the police killing of Breonna Taylor and the 2020 racial justice protests, will resign in January.

Mayor-elect Craig Greenberg announced her planned resignation during a press conference Monday afternoon. He said Shields offered to resign at the end of Mayor Greg Fischer’s term during a meeting over the weekend. Shields is the fourth person to head the Louisville Metro Police Department in less than three years.

Greenberg said he expects the next police chief to be someone who is respected by the community, as well as the rank-and-file police officers. He also expects them to be committed to transparency.

“[The] Chief of Police should have a strong engagement with folks throughout the entire community who are working to reduce the amount of poverty and crime through many different strategies,” he said. “We can not simply police our way to safety here in Louisville.”

Greenberg said he expects LMPD will have an interim police chief when Shields leaves the department on January 2. He plans to work with a third-party consultant to conduct a nationwide search for a new head cop.

In a written statement, Shields said she is honored to have led LMPD “during a time of unprecedented change in policing here and across the country.”

“I am proud to have served this Department as it worked to implement more than 150 reform efforts, a police salary increase to attract and retain the best and brightest, and, most importantly, a reduction in violent crime,” she wrote.

Aaron Ellis, a spokesperson for LMPD, declined to answer WFPL’s questions about why Shields chose to resign, saying in an email, “We will allow the statement to speak for itself.”

Greenberg also declined to discuss the details of their conversation during his press conference.

Fischer appointed Shields in January 2021 as the permanent replacement for Chief Steve Conrad. Conrad was fired in June 2020 after officers violated department policy by failing to activate their body-worn cameras during a confrontation with people hanging out in a parking lot in west Louisville. That incident, which took place because the partygoers were assembling after a citywide curfew implemented by Fischer because of mass protests downtown, resulted in the killing of David “YaYa” McAtee by National Guard members.

Shields was previously chief of police in Atlanta, but stepped down after an officer shot and killed Rayshard Brooks, a Black man. Some criticized the choice of Shields as tone deaf.

When she took over LMPD, Louisville Metro was experiencing the largest spike in gun violence in the city’s history, with record-breaking numbers of homicides in 2020 and 2021. Detectives solved just a third of all homicides in 2021, well below the national average. As of last month, Louisville had suffered at least 137 homicides, according to the Courier-Journal.

In a statement, Fischer thanked Shields for coming to Louisville at “an incredibly challenging time” and leading “an LMPD focused on reform and violent crime reduction.”

Louisville’s next police chief will, again, inherit a department facing severe challenges.

The U.S. Department of Justice has been investigating LMPD and city government for over a year, looking for a pattern or practice of unconstitutional policing. Officials believe that investigation will likely result in a consent decree, which is an agreement between a city and the federal government to institute hundreds of policing reforms. Any agreement will be overseen by a federal judge to ensure Louisville Metro meets the expectations.

At the press conference, Greenberg said the next chief will have “a meaningful role” in implementing the mandated reforms, along with other changes to public safety he promised voters on the campaign trail. Greenberg has vowed to shift LMPD toward a “community-oriented policing” model while cracking down on illegal guns and prioritizing violent crime.

The next chief will also be responsible for attracting and retaining new recruits in order to fill hundreds of officer vacancies within LMPD.

Greenberg told reporters Monday that he will begin the process of looking for a new leader before he takes office in early January. He said he’ll consult with members of his transition team on who to select as an interim police chief, as well as Shields’ permanent replacement. The team’s public safety committee includes Michael Brown, a former secretary of Kentucky’s Justice & Public Safety Cabinet; Corrie Shull, a pastor and member of the Jefferson County Board of Education; and Yvette Gentry, one of two interim chiefs who led LMPD in 2020 after Conrad’s firing.

This story was updated.

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