LOUISVILLE, Ky. — It’s no secret Louisville Metro's Police Department (LMPD) is battling a gaping hole in its staff, reporting hundreds of openings and continuing retirements.
For months, Chief Erika Shields and others have insisted upping wages in this rough climate will help hire and retain.
Metro Council President, and former police officer, David James is the first to agree.
"If you don't pay for a great police department, you're not going to have a great police department,” James said.
That thought process could now be put to the test.
After weeks of delay, Louisville's Fraternal Order of Police (River City FOP) voted to ratify a new contract proposed by Mayor Greg Fischer. It would immediately increase starting officer pay to as much as $52,561 a year, by July 2022.
Current officers and sergeants would see 9 percent raises right away. Officers with a minimum of two years of experience going up to $63,000 per year. Sergeants would get boosted to at least nearly $82,000 a year immediately.
It would also mean another 6 percent raise midway through 2022, double what was proposed back in August.
"Once the mayor decided to increase the pay in the second year, it was easy,” James said.
In a statement, the FOP called it “a step in the right direction."
Spokesperson Dave Mutchler said 66 percent of voters said yes, while 34 percent voted no.
New accountability reforms, including suspensions without pay, stayed the same from the last deal voted down.
Meanwhile, there's the bigger picture – whether the move will help curb the record violence in Louisville.
"I don't think we can accurately say whether more funding and more police officers will work because we've never tried anything else,” Dr. Monica Unseld said.
As a social advocacy consultant, Unseld does data-based research into whether moves by local leaders solve issues. In the case of crime rates, Unseld is skeptical the contract will help safety or convince more people to wear the badge.
"We've never funded prevention in a way that's equitable with the way we've funded policing,” she said. "If we want to keep police officers on the job, we need to prevent crime. Let's make their job easier."
More than a fifth of the officers didn’t vote for reasons unknown.
A Metro Council committee passed the contract on Dec. 7. The contract will now go to the full council for a vote at their meeting on Thursday, Dec. 16.