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In a First, Louisville Taps a Black Woman to Lead Its Troubled Police Force

Louisville’s interim police chief, Jacquelyn Gwinn-Villaroel, will continue permanently in her role and take over a department that has been in turmoil since the 2020 police killing of Breonna Taylor and was excoriated this year in a scathing U.S. Department of Justice report.

Ms. Gwinn-Villaroel, 49, will be the first Black woman to serve permanently as the Louisville Metro Police Department’s chief. She had been interim chief since January, after the resignation of her predecessor, Erika Shields, one of several recent leadership changes.

“Over the past six months, Chief Gwinn-Villaroel has shown our city that she has exactly what I’m looking for in a chief and exactly what our community is looking for in a leader,” Mayor Craig Greenberg, who took office in January, said Thursday in a news release announcing her hiring. “She has extensive experience in law enforcement leadership and a record of reform.”

Chief Gwinn-Villaroel, a 26-year law enforcement veteran, started with the department in 2021 as a deputy chief after having spent her entire career at the Atlanta Police Department.

Ms. Gwinn-Villaroel first served under Ms. Shields in Atlanta, until Ms. Shields resigned after the police shooting death of Rayshard Brooks in 2020.

Ms. Gwinn-Villaroel is the fifth person to lead Louisville’s police force since June 2020, when Chief Steve Conrad was fired after officers killed a popular restaurant owner in a firefight during that summer’s protests. Two interim chiefs filled in before Ms. Shields took over the department in January 2021.

Louisville’s police department began drawing intense scrutiny in 2020 after officers shot and killed Ms. Taylor, a 26-year-old emergency room technician, in her apartment during a no-knock warrant raid in the middle of the night. Four officers involved in that shooting were charged last year.

But tensions between the force and the city’s residents had been building long before Ms. Taylor’s death.

In March, the U.S. Department of Justice released the results of an investigation that concluded that the Louisville Metro Police Department had routinely violated citizens’ constitutional rights.

“For years, LMPD has practiced an aggressive style of policing that it deploys selectively, especially against Black people, but also against vulnerable people throughout the city,” the report read.

Ms. Gwinn-Villaroel said on Thursday she would focus on rebuilding community trust and reducing violent crime in the city.

“We understand that we’ve got to continue to work on those relationships and build upon that community trust that we’re just everyday working on,” Ms. Gwinn-Villaroel said at a news conference. “We are invested in making sure that we get it right.”

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