By Josh Wood, Louisville Courier Journal

It was a plan to build trust between the community and Louisville Metro Police following the 2020 killing of Breonna Taylor.
Titled the “Truth and Transformation Initiative,” it was modeled, in part, on reconciliation efforts in post-Apartheid South Africa.
Police officers would receive procedural justice training, learning how “overseer becomes officer.”
Their department would publicly acknowledge the harm it had done to the community.
Then, the plan’s main thrust would come into play: A series of moderated “listening sessions,” where police would hear directly from communities harmed by them.
Those listening sessions would be a precursor to concrete measures to repair harm and change policy — changes that would happen in the open, hand in hand with the community.
But more than two years and hundreds of thousands of dollars later, none of those listening sessions ever took place.
In October, Louisville Mayor Craig Greenberg’s administration, which took office last year, quietly let Metro Government’s contract with the National Network for Safe Communities expire.
The city had hired NNSC to oversee Truth and Transformation at the close of 2021.
“Too often, community members have been at tables historically, but they were on the menu,” the NNSC’s Paul Smith told a Metro Council committee in 2022. “This allows folks to be seated at the table at a place of decision-making, policymaking and then accountability structures.”
“It never really got off the ground,” said Rabbi Robert Slosberg, a member of Citizens of Louisville Organized and United Together (CLOUT), a coalition of religious organizations that had advocated for Louisville Metro Government to adopt Truth and Transformation after earlier attempts at building police trust and legitimacy fizzled.
The failure of the Truth and Transformation Initiative to live up to its promise comes as Greenberg continues to pledge that the city is working toward making LMPD the “most trained, trusted and transparent police department in America.”
It also comes as community relations remain strained while Metro Government negotiates a consent decree with the federal government to address unconstitutional policing practices laid out in a damning Department of Justice investigation last year.
In an interview with The Courier Journal earlier this month, Greenberg questioned the effectiveness of listening sessions, saying police programs like Cuts With Cops, where people can meet officers at barber shops, or the Police Activities League, which brings cops and children together for sports and hobbies, “more naturally” create relationships between the police and community.
He also said the city shares the goals of Truth and Transformation, which he does not consider a failure.
“We don’t think we need to continue to pay an out-of-state company to provide consulting services — let’s empower local folks to do it the Louisville way to achieve this same goal,” he said. “And that’s a large part of what drove this decision.”

Truth and Transformation born out of ashes of predecessor
Before there was Truth and Transformation, there was Synergy.
Launched in 2019 under then-Mayor Greg Fischer, Synergy was modeled after a program in Charleston, South Carolina, that formed in the wake of the 2015 Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church mass shooting by white supremacist Dylann Roof.
The program focused on “guided conversations” between members of the community and police to “identify root causes of distrust and find actionable solutions to move the city forward.”
Less than a year into the project, a 26-year-old Black woman named Breonna Taylor was shot and killed by LMPD officers serving a search warrant on her apartment. Synergy meetings were halted by COVID-19, and soon, protesters were marching through the streets of Louisville chanting “how do you spell racist? L-M-P-D!”
As plans were underway to potentially revive Synergy in 2021, then-Metro Council President David James told The Courier Journal the program was “horrible, quite frankly” and “a waste of time.”
The issue, the former Louisville cop said, was their meetings did not get to the root causes of distrust.
“[Conversations] have to be real. They can’t be: ‘Let’s do this checkbox,’” he said at the time. “The criticism you hear isn’t because we don’t think there’s a need for dialogue. It’s that we believe there’s a need for real dialogue.”
Meanwhile, CLOUT was pushing for Louisville to take a new approach — a “Truth and Transformation” process.
In the budget for fiscal 2022, which started on July 1, 2021, Metro Council approved $600,000 to go toward “reconciliation” efforts that would be facilitated by the NNSC, a research center at New York’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice.
In November 2021, Metro Government signed a contract agreeing to pay NNSC up to $385,000 over two years to oversee Truth and Transformation.

An ambitious project
According to NNSC’s plan, one of the first orders of business was for Louisville Metro Government to hire a project manager to oversee the plan. While NNSC’s contract described the project manager as “essential” to the implementation of the project, one was never hired.
Early on in the process, the chief of police was to issue a formal acknowledgement of the harm police had done to the community.
After the acknowledgement of harm, listening sessions would be held where LMPD’s chief and other high-ranking officials would “hear directly from harmed communities,” Smith, from the NNSC, told a Metro Council Public Safety Committee meeting in August 2022.
“In these meetings, the police are not just sitting and waiting to give some jargon-laced response that nobody understands or cares about,” he added.
The ultimate goal of the listening sessions and collecting narratives was changing police policy, Smith said.
“If there are no policy changes, no practice changes and everything stays the same, we will have wasted time and money,” he warned.
Reached by phone, Smith, who is no longer with NNSC, declined to comment.
But LMPD’s acknowledgement of harm, a prerequisite for the listening sessions, would not come until March 2023, more than a year into the Truth and Transformation Initiative, when then-Interim Chief Jacquelyn Gwinn-Villaroel told a meeting organized by CLOUT that she acknowledged “the pain caused by those who did not respect the law enforcement profession” and promised to uphold “constitutional policing.”
According to a July 2023 NNSC status update obtained through an open records request, Louisville’s acknowledgement of harm was still “in progress.”
While NNSC said they were aware of two acknowledgements of harm — and called them an “excellent first step” — the organization said: “Direct observation of these acknowledgements and subsequent community feedback indicate the importance of further strengthening these statements to recognize that harm extends beyond a few officers’ misconduct to direct LMPD policies and practices.”
Although listening sessions were meant to occur after the acknowledgement of harm, none did.
That July 2023 NNSC status update said a facilitator for the listening sessions had been identified, but withdrew after they “expressed concerns about the long-term commitment of LMPD and Metro Government” to the initiative.
In the status update, most elements of the initiative are listed as “not yet started” despite the contract nearing the end of its life.
“We’re disappointed that so much money was spent, and the process wasn’t followed procedurally and in … order. That’s always a disappointment; you don’t want to waste money,” said the Rev. Angela Johnson, another member of CLOUT.
Her fellow CLOUT member, Slosberg, compared Truth and Transformation to the 12-step program.
“One step builds upon another. And we just lost all sense of sequencing,” he said.

What parts of Truth and Transformation were implemented?
As part of Truth and Transformation, LMPD officers would receive procedural justice training that would include an “up front and in your face” history of police that looked at how “overseer becomes officer.”
Before being told to leave early, a reporter was allowed to attend part of a Truth and Transformation course at LMPD’s training academy in early 2023, where officers watched a video of a police shooting and were asked to role-play as different members of the community. The course’s trainer, a former Stockton, California, police captain, also told LMPD officers about his former department’s community reconciliation efforts.
In response to an open records request for materials used in Truth and Transformation classes, LMPD produced a slideshow that traced U.S. race relations and incidents that have negatively affected police-community relations. The topics included red lining, lynchings, the Civil Rights Movement and the 1969 Stonewall rebellion, which followed repeated New York Police raids on gay bars and would propel the LGBT rights movement.
The history lesson ended with 2018 and Baltimore Police’s Gun Trace Task Force, which robbed drug dealers and framed innocent people.
While the courses were taught in 2022-23, the slides did not recount the police killings of George Floyd or Breonna Taylor, which catapulted cities across the United States into protests four years ago.
The slideshow ended by asking officers how the history made them feel and whether there were local events that created mistrust.
LMPD declined to make a representative available for an interview about the trainings, but in a statement, a spokesperson for the department said “all LMPD officers have completed the training outlined in the contract and are in compliance. The course is just one layer of a multi-tiered approach towards providing the best service to residents and visitors.”
Another part of Truth and Transformation involved a history of policing in Louisville. It was commissioned by the Greenberg administration and published earlier this year.
That history found police violence against Black people in Louisville was a “consistent and systemic pattern across time.”

A ‘focal shift’ away from Truth and Transformation
In a phone interview with The Courier Journal last month, former Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer said Truth and Transformation was “a work in progress” when he left office at the start of 2023, and he referred questions about its status to Joi McAtee, who heads Greenberg’s Office of Equity, which was responsible for the program.
Fischer, who is writing a book about his experiences as mayor, said community input needs to play a larger role in policing, which he views as “at an inflection point in America.”
Michael Meeks, who was Fischer’s chief equity officer, also referred The Courier Journal to McAtee for questions about Truth and Transformation, but the Greenberg administration declined to make her available for an interview.
Sasha Cotton, the executive director of the NNSC, told The Courier Journal there was a “focal shift” by the administration away from Truth and Transformation.
She also said listening sessions were an integral part of the Truth and Transformation plan.
“We certainly stand behind the methodology of the Truth and Transformation process that we have led, and continue to lead,” she said. That framework “can be and has been successful for cities to think about how to tackle the issue, in a very direct way, of past harm.”
While the Greenberg administration shifted away from the initiative, Cotton said there were significant delays when Fischer was in office.
The Urban Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank, was set to evaluate the success of Truth and Transformation through community surveys after its completion.
“A lot of the implementation of the proposed reconciliation process really only made it through the planning phase,” said Ashlin Oglesby-Neal, a senior research associate at the Urban Institute.
At an April CLOUT meeting attended by Greenberg, Johnson expressed the organization’s disappointment that Metro Government did not follow through with Truth and Transformation.
“We believe that not following through on the contract with professional facilitators was a missed opportunity for police to hear directly from harmed community members so all parties can move towards transformation,” she said.
Now, CLOUT is pinning its hopes for change on the impending consent decree.
Greenberg, however, views the Truth and Transformation’s success differently.
“I don’t think Truth and Transformation failed,” he said. “I think we made many positive steps forward by implementing most of what Truth and Transformation called for.”
Engagement between officers and the community, as well as procedural justice training officers received, were the “natural evolution that has come out of the Truth and Transformation process. So, to me, it was a success. It is a success,” he added.
Additionally, Greenberg told The Courier Journal LMPD recruits are now brought to Washington, D.C., for two days of training at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

How much did Truth and Transformation cost?
In both fiscal years 2022 and 2023, $600,000 was allocated “to fund Reconciliation, the John Jay College National Network for Safe Communities (NNSC) program.”
While the total allocated to the program across those years was $1.2 million, the contract with NNSC was for $385,000 over the two-year life of the contract.
Invoices spanning Feb. 15, 2022, through Sept. 21, 2023, The Courier Journal obtained through an open records request show NNSC billed the city $474,160 during that time frame, more than the contract called for.
Additional records obtained through open records show Metro Government agreed to pay the University of Louisville $10,601 to fund researchers working on the history of LMPD.
The majority of the approved Truth and Transformation spending — more than $725,000 — was ultimately returned to the general fund, according to Greenberg’s communications director Scottie Ellis.

View the original story here.