In the year since Louisville and Jefferson County governments merged, the police department has undergone the most mammoth change of any division in metro government, reports the Louisville Courier-Journal. Officials estimate that more than 75 percent of police operations have been combined, from policies and procedures to staffs and offices.
The generally smooth consolidation, is credited largely to new Chief Robert White, but some officers and Fraternal Order of Police officials say it’s been difficult and morale has suffered. Police union officials contend that has resulted in lower rates of arrest and cases cleared. Figures from the first quarter of 2003 showed a 19 percent drop in arrests in the old city of Louisville compared with the same period the previous year; the case-clearance rate dropped to 21.7 percent from 31.5 percent. Jefferson County figures weren’t available. Police officials attributed the declines to other changes, including new districts and a change in duties for many officers.
Many officers complain about White’s decision to decentralize police operations, including the gang and street-crimes units. The union has battled with Mayor Jerry Abramson’s office over health insurance and other changes brought on by the merger.
The need for one communications system has not been resolved. Cultural differences divide urban and suburban officers, including the language they speak. Former city officers generally use what they call “plain speak;” county officers use code. What an urban officer describes as a “break-in in progress,” a suburban officer calls a “10-33.”
David James, president of the local Fraternal Order of Police, said, “We’re merged in thought, name, spirit and idea, but they still have the two sides speaking differently,” said James. “We’re still two departments, urban and suburban.”
White has put a priority on creating one police language and has commanders focusing on getting all officers on the same radio system by the end of next year. “We still have a tremendous amount of work to do before we’re truly a merged department,” he said. “I don’t want to take anything away from the progress we’ve made, because we truly have done a lot. But when the day comes that we can say the remaining 25 percent is done, that’s when I will celebrate.”