A new state law aimed at reducing misdemeanor arrests and easing jail populations will take effect Wednesday, but Louisville Metro Police Chief Robert White is concerned the change undermines police officers who are trying to keep the city safe.
Under the law, officers must issue a citation rather than make an arrest for dozens of misdemeanors, including some felony drug charges such as possessing small amounts of marijuana.
The officer has the discretion to make the arrest if they believe a suspect is a danger to themselves or others and will not appear in court.
Chief White says officers will adapt to the changes, but warns the new law could tie the department’s hand in certain situations.
“I think police officers should have as many tools as possible in their toolbox to help them do their job to ensure that our community stays safe. There are certain scenarios where officers in the past could make the arrest and now they can’t make the arrest barring mitigating circumstances,” he says.
The attorney general’s office has told the state public safety cabinet that officers can still make arrests for more serious misdemeanors such as public intoxication, shoplifting and animal cruelty.
Despite misgivings, Chief White supports alternatives to incarcerating non-violent offenders, he says. The law is aimed the crisis of overcrowding jail, which have plagued local law enforcement in recent months.
Earlier this year, for instance, the Courier-Journal reported that Metro Corrections temporarily reopened a 60-year-old former jail that was out of compliance with health and safety standards due to overcrowding.
Chief White says he understands the need to reduce jail populations and has advocated similar measures in the past, such as recommending homeless individuals be sent to the The Healing Place as opposed to jail when arrested for public intoxication.
“I even as a law enforcement person believe in (alternatives) to incarceration because our jailing system is in fact overcrowded. I just think they need to be effective alternatives,” says White. “And I have said for years we’re not going to arrest ourselves out of this situation.”
White says officers will receive instructions about the law at their regular roll calls and additional training over the next several months.