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Legislative panel hears police reform proposals

Keturah Herron (left), a policy strategist for the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky and Black Lives Matter member, and Louisville Metro Council President David James testified Thursday.

FRANKFORT, Ky. — Louisville Metro Council President David James asked lawmakers for help in rebuilding the community’s trust after days of protests following the fatal police shooting of Breonna Taylor.

“To help with the police issue, we have to build back credibility in our police department,” James said while testifying before Thursday’s meeting of the Interim Joint Committee on Judiciary. “There has to be trust between the community and police for policing to ever work and be successful.”

Committee Co-chair Sen. Whitney Westerfield, R-Crofton, said the testimony of James and Keturah Herron of the American Civil Liberties Union was an opportunity to provide a platform for the pair to speak about the events surrounding Taylor’s death.

The 26-year-old EMT was fatally shot by police after officers entered her home in the early morning hours of March 13 on a “no-knock” warrant in connection with a narcotics investigation. An officer was shot by Taylor’s boyfriend who has maintained he thought he was shooting at robbers — and not the police. No drugs were found in the home, and charges in connection to the shooting of the officer have been dismissed.

“We are not going to take questions,” Westerfield said to the committee members, some of whom participated via video chat. “We are not going to comment or make statements. I’ll save that for each of you in your own district in your own way and in your own time. This is a time for us to listen. We need to hear what needs to be said from these two fine professional folks.”

James said he had a unique perspective on rebuilding the community’s trust in law enforcement since he was a police officer before joining metro council.

He said Louisville needs a civilian review board, but that the General Assembly would have to grant it subpoena power for it to be effective.

The second action James suggested was legislation to severely limit “no-knock” warrants across Kentucky. He said metro council is considering a proposed ordinance curtailing the use of such warrants, but it would not apply to the 26 other city police departments that operate within Jefferson County.

“I would ask you all to consider this for our entire state,” James said. “They’re dangerous. They are dangerous for police officers, and they are dangerous for citizens. I believe they should be used in only the most extreme circumstances to protect life.”

Thirdly, James suggested the General Assembly examine the subjects of poverty and housing. “The issues with law enforcement and trust are not simply just about policing,” he said. “They are about all sorts of other things. Policing is just a symptom of that.”

The fourth suggestion James made was for the legislature to join metro council in forming a permanent committee to look at equality and inclusion.

“We think it is very important that we look at all the policies and procedures of the city, of the government, to see what we can do better,” he said. “I would ask that the legislature do the same for the state because I think we need to do better. I think we can do better. And I ask you to help us do better.”

Lastly, James said Kentucky’s police officers’ bill of rights needs to be revised by legislators. He said the way it is written limits management’s ability to discipline police officers.

“I don’t think you want bad police officers policing our communities,” James said. “I know I don’t. I want the good ones policing our communities. And I want all of our citizens to be treated equally and fairly under the color of law.”

James ended his testimony by stressing that law enforcement, especially African-American police officers, are under tremendous stress. “They are caught in the middle,” he said, adding that some have had to move their families into hotel rooms because of threats.

James offered to help lawmakers any way he could that would lead to a more equitable Kentucky.

Herron, a policy strategist with ACLU of Kentucky and member of Black Lives Matter, challenged the General Assembly to consider race and gender data when crafting public policy through legislation. She also urged the passage of a restoration of voter rights bill.

“I challenge … the legislative body to start looking at those things,” Herron said. “I am here to have a one-on-one conversation if anyone has further questions. I’m here to be of assistance.”

After the testimony, Westerfield said he appreciated the pair’s willingness to work with legislators. “I trust that I and others will take you up on that pretty darn soon,” Westerfield said of the offers.