After an informational meeting on new police body cameras at Central High School last week, Louisville Metro Police Department Chief Steve Conrad spoke with Insider Louisville about the negative fallout from local Fraternal Order of Police president Dave Mutchler’s threatening open letter in June, as well as his department’s approach to combating crime at the notorious Economy Inn motel on Bardstown Road.
On the FOP Letter
Asked if Mutchler’s letter has damaged the trust African-Americans — particularly the local Black Lives Matter movement — have in the LMPD, Conrad said it “definitely hurt our relationship in this community.”
“I think that there are concerns based on that letter about what police feel and what police think,” said Conrad, who condemned Mutchler’s letter as counterproductive the day after it was released. “When you have letters like that, you can’t help but have people wondering about people’s motivations, and that’s unfortunate. What we have tried to do in the message that I have shared with our officers since I’ve been chief is that we have an obligation to do everything we can to try to build trust here in this community.”
While Conrad said that neither he nor anyone else in the community would disagree with three main points in Mutchler’s letter — thanking people who support the police, telling criminals they’ll be brought to justice, and saying critics of police should be honest — the offensive tone and language of the letter overshadowed that message and did more harm than good.
“Although (Mutchler) has the First Amendment right to say what he’s going to say, that did nothing, I believe, to help police and community relations,” said Conrad. “We’re going to need to work to repair that damage. And I’m committed to going to meetings and forums, and meeting with people and trying to answer questions. And I believe that the men and women that work for me are willing to do their part too by treating people fairly and respectfully.”
Conrad added that repairing and building up such trust is a slow process, which includes many individual “fair, professional and respectful interactions” of officers with citizens.
“That kind of grassroots sort of approach is going to take a long time,” said Conrad, “because you’ve got people that have had negative experiences, or they’ve formed an opinion about 1,250 police officers that wear the same uniform and badge based on that one letter. It does not portray them the way they should be portrayed.”
On June 22, protesters of Mutchler sent a list of 12 policy demands to Conrad, including the FOP president’s firing, which he maintained he had no power to do. Conrad addressed those requests in his June 26 op-ed published in The Courier-Journal, agreeing with several of them, but saying he would not dismantle the force’s VIPER unit and claiming the city already has a civilian review board with subpoena power.
On the Economy Inn
IL also asked Conrad about his department’s approach to dealing with the Economy Inn, which neighbors have long complained of being a hotbed of crime, including the use and sale of drugs, prostitution, and a shooting last month.
In June, IL reported the story of a former Economy Inn night clerk who provided recollections and motel records documenting that prostitution has recently increased there, along with claims that its owner did nothing to stop a specific incidence of underage prostitution in May, which could legally constitute human trafficking. The owner, Tony Yaldo, told WDRB three weeks ago that the former employee was an honest and great worker, but denied the allegation.
Citing that specific allegation, Conrad said the LMPD is looking into the matter.
“That info that we got from the woman that you referenced is something that is being looked at and something that is being investigated, and that’s ongoing,” said Conrad. “I don’t really want to talk anymore about that particular part of it, but we’re really trying to look at it from a number of different angles.”
Conrad said their overall approach to mitigating the myriad of issues surrounding the troubled motel includes other city agencies focused on health and safety code violations. Councilman Steve Magre, D-10, has indicated he is working on an amendment to the city’s public nuisance ordinance that would hold hotel owners responsible for incidents in individual rooms on their property, but Conrad said he is doubtful this would work.
“I know that Councilman Magre has taken a look at that ordinance to see if there are things that can be done, but I don’t know if they can legally do that,” said Conrad. “If you pick any hotel in town – the Hyatt, the Marriott, the Seelbach – and there is a problem up in one of the rooms, can you hold the management accountable?”
While some neighbors have speculated that the LMPD prefers to contain criminals within small areas such as the Economy Inn — the police regularly check their guest logs for outstanding warrants — Conrad categorically denies that.
“It really doesn’t make any sense from our point of view to want to try to facilitate that kind of situation,” said Conrad. “That kind of continuing problem — when you’ve got lots of rooms where there is criminal activity going on, where they’re selling drugs, they’re buying drugs, or prostitution, or just being disorderly people — it effects the quality of life for other people who live there that aren’t committing crimes and other people in the vicinity. We don’t want that anywhere.”
This isn’t the first allegation of human trafficking at the Economy Inn, and Conrad said the LMPD has a collective effort to fight this problem throughout the city, including their vice detectives, the FBI, and a local human trafficking task force that includes social service agencies and churches.
“We kind of look at it from a broader view of making sure we provide services to a young person that we might rescue who has been trafficked,” said Conrad. “And we want to make sure that when we do get that person, that we have an opportunity to get them medical care they need, a place to live, and a place to be safe.”