Louisville Police Cheif Erika Shields took an unexpected tack in response to the news that the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) was launching an investigation into her department. After U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland announced that the DOJ would probe a “pattern or practice” at the Lousiville Metro Police Department, Shields seemed very welcoming of the move.
But it was the city’s new police chief’s choice of words that may have caught some people off-guard.
Shields, in an apparent effort to get her officers on board with the investigation, encouraged them to “engage in this process” for the greater good of the department.
She added: “It’s OK if we’ve done things wrong. We’re going to do it differently; we’re going to do it better. But this is your future. This is our future.”
A Twitter thread from Louisville Courier-Journal reporter Darcy Costello, who was covering the press conference, underscores the relatively rosy disposition of Shields in comparison to other, more somber local law enforcement officials who spoke.
“Today, the Justice Department is opening a civil investigation into the Louisville-Jefferson County metro government and the Louisville Metro Police Department to determine whether LMPD engages in a pattern or practice of violations of the constitution or federal law,” Garland said at a press conference. “The investigation will assess whether LMPD engages in a pattern or practice of using unreasonable force, including with respect to people involved in peaceful, expressive activities. It will determine whether LMPD engages in unconstitutional stops searches and seizures, as well as whether the department unlawfully executes search warrants on private homes.”
None of the suspicions upon which the probe is based sound “OK.”
Neither is a violent LMPD arrest this month that left a bloodied protester the victim of excessive force whose demands for accountability in the form of firing the guilty officers have gone all but ignored. At least one Louisville councilman has called on Shields and the city’s mayor to fire the accused officer, who remains gainfully employed with the department more than one week later.
To be sure, none of that is “OK,” either.
Of course, to the many documented taxpayers whose trust has been betrayed by LMPD — including and especially Breonna Taylor and her family — just the notion that there could be doubt about Louisville cops having “done things wrong” is pretty far from “OK.”
A federal probe into policing will not absolve guilty police department members of their misdeeds and professional shortcomings that have contributed to allowing such a law enforcement culture to not just exist but thrive to the level where officers can blindly fire into an apartment, kill someone and not suffer any real legal ramifications.
It should be fairly apparent that part is not “OK.”
One reason why Shields may have chosen those words is that she wasn’t the chief presiding over the department when Taylor was gunned down in her own home. Instead, she was the chief of police in Atlanta, where she was weathering her own scandals.
Like when then-Atlanta Police Officer Garrett Rolfe gunned down Rayshard Brooks by shooting him in the back in a fast-food parking lot. Shields resigned the very next day. Just about six months later, she accepted the same position in Louisville.
In a sense, Shields may look at the DOJ probe in Louisville to provide yet another form of a fresh start following her abrupt departure from Atlanta. And that is totally OK.
But everything that came before that to effectively invite scrutiny from the DOJ is definitely not “OK,” and it’s imperative that Shields knows that.