Photo by Tony Pacheco

The Louisville Metro Police Department recently decided to cut back on a key part of training for new officers, but Councilman David James, D-6, is concerned that this could jeopardize public safety and urged LMPD leadership to reconsider.

When new recruits graduate from the Louisville Metro Police Training Academy, they become a probationary officers for the next year and begin the Police Training Officer (PTO) program, in which they ride with different officers and can have their field performance measured. While PTO training for such probationary officers was previously 24 weeks, the class that just graduated on Dec. 29 will now only receive 16 weeks of training before they can begin to ride solo on duty.

LMPD spokesman Lamont Washington told IL that the decision to cut back on this training time was at the suggestion of the Training Division Commander and the command staff, as “most officers will find their way to a solo status eight weeks sooner than they would before.” Asked if there is any harm in cutting the amount of such training by a third, Washington said there was not.

Councilman David James, D-6 | Photo by Joe Sonka

However, Councilman James — a former LMPD detective and outspoken critic of Chief Steve Conrad — says he is concerned about how this move could affect public safety, and believes Conrad made this decision “in a vacuum.”

“I have spoken to several officers that train new probationary officers and they were not consulted about this decision and are very concerned about the safety of the officers and the safety of the citizens,” said James.

This move by LMPD comes as Jefferson County has endured its second consecutive year with over 100 homicides, with 2016 setting an all-time high and 2017 tied in second. There has been a push by Metro Council to put more officers on the street, as LMPD struggles with a ballooning overtime budget.

James added his concern that less supervised training could not only lead to more injuries of officers and citizens, but increased citizen complaints, rights violations and cases dismissed in court due to poor procedures.

“At a time when certain communities in our city have great concerns about the training that our police officers receive, reducing the amount of time officers receive hands-on training while being directly supervised by a specially trained training officer would seem to be counter to what would make some in our community feel safer when they encounter a police officer,” said James.

“It’s literally a matter of life and death,” said James. “I hope and pray Chief Conrad reconsiders this decision, for the safety of all involved.”

In a follow-up interview with LMPD Assistant Chief of Police Robert Schroeder, he countered that this decision did come from the ground up by those who supervise the training of probationary officers, and that 16 weeks of PTO program training more closely aligns with best practices used by departments around the country.

While agreeing that LMPD has heard the call of Metro Council for more officers on the ground — and that this change will result in new officers riding solo faster — he said this decision was not implemented from the top down for that purpose.

“We’re always asking the officers to look out for best practices, and this really came up from the ground level, from our officers and our sergeants,” said Schroeder. “And the training academy supervisors of the PTO program actually sent that request up to us and said ‘hey, we think this would be a better, more efficient process, if we transition to this model.’ And we looked at it and it makes a whole lot of sense, and I approved it.”

The national model Schroeder referred to is the “Reno Model,” in which the PTO program phase of training is recommended to last 15 weeks. He added that if probationary officers are having difficulty in the PTO program, their training can be extended well beyond 16 weeks, and LMPD will be monitoring the new process as they proceed.

“I’m a little shocked at the concern,” added Schroeder. “There is no way that our training staff, that this command staff is going to put any officer out there on their own who is not ready.”

This story has been updated with comments from LMPD Assistant Chief of Police Robert Schroeder.