LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Jail leaders from across the country set up shop outside the Louisville Metro Department of Corrections (LMDC) late Monday night in what's being called a grand gesture by jail staff.
By 6:30 a.m. Tuesday, members from multiple Illinois FOPs and one from New York City's Rikers Island were handing out free breakfast to LMDC's third shift workers. Officers walked away with scrambled eggs, bacon, toast and hashbrowns - with Chicago-style Italian beef sandwiches on the menu for lunch.
By the end of the day, the Illinois FOP expects to serve between 300 and 400 employees at the jail, who've shown up to work during a critical staffing shortage.
"I've been in the trenches with them. I know what it's like," said Scot Ward, a 26-year-veteran and president of the Illinois Corrections Lodge 263. "You're kind of forgotten behind the walls and people kind of don't care. But from being in it, somebody has to care and that's what we are here for."
Ward and members of his FOP, along with Chicago Lodge 7 make it their mission to travel across Illinois, bringing comfort food to jail staff at the state and federal level. Ward said, in terms of the pay scale, his officers aren't in the same boat as Louisville but are also facing a shortage.
When they heard about the situation in Louisville, they wasted no time making the trip.
"It's crazy. Number one: it's unsafe and it's going to put someone in harm's way. This city's mayor, city council should make that decision before it's too late. Because we're going to be reactive instead of proactive," Ward said.
Staff inside Metro Corrections called this past weekend's lockdown a dangerous tipping point, one that's only getting worse. With more than 130 current job openings, the jail's working hard to bring in new recruits. Last week, the jail welcomed 12 new officers but at the same time, lost six.
FOP President Daniel Johnson said the solution is simple: reopen the FOP contract and up their pay.
Tanisha Sutton, President of Rikers Island Lodge 89, drove 12 hours to be here for her fellow officers. Her jail is also experiencing critical staffing shortages.
"This is something that's been going on far too long, across the country. It's not fair and corrections officers need to be respected," Sutton said. "It's not an easy job. We're sight unseen. People don't know what we do, they don't understand what we do when we're behind the gate. This is a job that deserves higher pay."
Sutton said a gesture like Tuesday's food truck is simple, but can go a long way.
"It can help the day a great deal. I don't, we don't often get meal breaks. We're not appreciated. We're looked down upon, so something like this means a lot," said Sutton.
This week, Mayor Fischer's office responded to the jail shortage, saying: "We are in continued discussion with Union leadership and Metro Council to develop solutions as staffing levels are an issue we are seeing in agencies throughout Louisville Metro Government."