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1st Black woman named to full-time role as police chief of embattled force in Louisville, Kentucky

by Ryan Lee
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Louisville Police Chief Appointment

For the first time in its history, the Louisville police department in Kentucky will be led full-time by a Black woman. The appointment is seen as a hopeful sign for a department that has been under federal oversight due to intense scrutiny following the 2020 police shooting of Breonna Taylor.

The city’s Mayor, Craig Greenberg, announced on Thursday that the role of the permanent police chief will be filled by interim chief Jacquelyn Gwinn-Villaroel. The decision comes after a nationwide search, and in the wake of numerous leadership changes since Taylor, a Black woman, was fatally shot during a botched police raid.

Gwinn-Villaroel was originally recruited to the Louisville Police Department in 2021 from the Atlanta Police Department, by the former Chief Erika Shields, who appointed her as a deputy chief. Following Shields’ resignation in January, Greenberg, who had been elected as mayor the previous year, confirmed that Gwinn-Villaroel would act as the interim chief.

Acknowledging the challenges of the role, Greenberg highlighted Gwinn-Villaroel’s competence, stating at a Thursday news conference, “Over the last few months, it’s become very clear that the best person to do this work is already on the job.”

Expressing her gratitude for the appointment, Gwinn-Villaroel paid tribute to her predecessors, stating, “I stand here today on the shoulders of so many who paved the way for me and opened the doors.”

The Mayor went on to praise Gwinn-Villaroel’s leadership, specifically during a mass shooting at a downtown bank in April where one of her officers was injured. However, the new chief faces significant obstacles, including recruiting new officers for about 250 vacancies, and rebuilding public trust following the U.S. Justice Department’s findings of systematic violation of constitutional rights and discrimination by the Louisville police.

The Justice Department’s report, initiated by Taylor’s shooting and announced by Attorney General Merrick Garland in March, concluded that the Louisville police department and the Louisville/Jefferson County Metro Government were guilty of a pattern of unlawful conduct and discrimination. It revealed that the department discriminates against Black people, uses excessive force, conducts searches based on invalid warrants, and infringes on the rights of those exercising protected speech, such as during the 2020 street protests after Taylor’s death.

Gwinn-Villaroel is the third person to hold the interim chief position since Taylor’s death. Steve Conrad, the former long-serving chief, was dismissed in 2020. Yvette Gentry, a former interim chief who succeeded Conrad, was the first Black woman to hold that role when she was appointed in 2020.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Louisville Police Chief Appointment

Who is the new full-time police chief of the Louisville Police Department?

Jacquelyn Gwinn-Villaroel is the new full-time police chief of the Louisville Police Department. She is the first Black woman to hold this position full-time.

What event led to increased scrutiny of the Louisville Police Department?

The Louisville Police Department has faced increased scrutiny following the police shooting of Breonna Taylor in 2020, which led to the department being placed under federal oversight.

Where did Jacquelyn Gwinn-Villaroel work before her appointment as Louisville’s police chief?

Before her appointment in Louisville, Jacquelyn Gwinn-Villaroel served in the Atlanta Police Department, from where she was recruited in 2021 by then-Chief Erika Shields to serve as deputy chief in Louisville.

What challenges will the new police chief face in her role?

Chief Gwinn-Villaroel faces significant challenges in her new role, including filling around 250 job vacancies within the department and rebuilding public trust following the U.S. Justice Department’s findings of systematic violation of constitutional rights and discrimination by the Louisville police.

Who was the first Black woman to serve as interim police chief in Louisville?

Yvette Gentry was the first Black woman to serve as interim police chief in Louisville. She was appointed in 2020 following the dismissal of the former long-serving chief, Steve Conrad.

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