By Dylan Lovan,
The Associated Press
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Louisville’s new police chief will be the first Black woman to lead the embattled department full-time, bringing fresh hope to a force under a federal consent decree after years of scrutiny following the police shooting of Breonna Taylor in 2020.
Louisville interim police chief Jacquelyn Gwinn-Villaroel is formally taking the job of new chief. Louisville Mayor Craig Greenberg announced July 20 that she was chosen after a nationwide search. The city has gone through several chiefs and interim leaders since the death of Taylor, a Black woman shot dead in a police raid gone awry.
Gwinn-Villaroel came to Louisville from the Atlanta Police Department in 2021 alongside former Chief Erika Shields, who hired her as a deputy chief. Greenberg, who was elected mayor last year, had said in December that Gwinn-Villaroel would become interim chief after Shields stepped down in January.
“This is a challenging job,” Greenberg said at a news conference July 20. “And over the last few months, it’s become very clear that the best person to do this work is already on the job.”
Gwinn-Villaroel thanked Greenberg for taking a “leap of faith” with her hiring.
“I stand here today on the shoulders of so many who paved the way for me and opened the doors,” she said.
Greenberg said Gwinn-Villaroel showed leadership during a mass shooting at a downtown bank in April, when one of her officers was shot and wounded.
She faces challenges in recruiting new officers to a force that has about 250 job openings, and restoring community trust after the U.S. Justice Department announced in March that it had found Louisville police engaged in a pattern of violating constitutional rights and discrimination.
That announcement, made by Attorney General Merrick Garland, followed an investigation prompted by Taylor’s shooting. A Justice Department report found the Louisville/Jefferson County Metro Government and Louisville Metro Police Department “engage in a pattern or practice of conduct that deprives people of their rights under the Constitution and federal law.”
The report said the Louisville police department “discriminates against Black people in its enforcement activities,” uses excessive force and conducts searches based on invalid warrants. It also said the department violates the rights of people engaged in protected speech, like the street protests in the city in the summer of 2020 after Taylor’s death.
Gwinn-Villaroel had served as the third interim chief since Taylor’s death. Former longtime chief Steve Conrad was fired in 2020. Former interim chief Yvette Gentry became the first Black woman to serve in that role when she was hired in 2020, following another interim chief that had succeeded Conrad.