'She is still the chief': LMPD's new acting chief stresses temporary nature of role

Paul Humphrey is the sixth person to lead Louisville Metro Police in four years.

His surprise ascension to LMPD's top role came last week after Louisville Mayor Craig Greenberg suspended Chief Jacquelyn Gwinn-Villaroel over her handling of sexual misconduct allegations raised against a commanding officer.

But even without that backdrop, the job would be daunting: The department is facing an impending consent decree, and community trust remains frayed following the 2020 police killing of Breonna Taylor and other high-profile incidents, including last month's arrest of the world's top golfer, Scottie Scheffler.

Days after being named acting chief, Humphrey sat down with The Courier Journal for an interview. Here's what he had to say.

About his role as acting chief

LMPD acting chief Paul Humphrey
LMPD acting chief Paul Humphrey

Humphrey stressed the "acting" part of his title, likening his current role to one he would step into when Gwinn-Villaroel was traveling out of town.

“This isn’t much different than that. So, I’m making decisions for the agency as we go forward. She is still the chief,” he said. “And so right now, as far as long-term decisions and planning and those types of things, this is still her agency, and so I’m still fulfilling the demands that she had set up and all of the arrangements that she had made. But in the interim, making sure that the decisions that come to this level are addressed and addressed appropriately.”

He added: “When it comes to long-term strategic changes or long-term personnel changes, those are still decisions that should be left to a permanent chief.”

Rebuilding community trust

The Explorer scandal. The killing of Breonna Taylor. The heavy-handed police response to protesters in 2020. Slushygate. And most recently, the Scheffler arrest and the suspension of the chief of police.

Time and time again in recent years, LMPD has found itself in the headlines for incidents that eroded public trust and caused skepticism toward the organization.

Humphrey said the department needs to show the community it has improved.

“We can’t just continue to come to the community and say ‘hey, we messed up, we’re being transparent about the things we didn’t do well,’” he said. “The community expects that we’re going to improve and make sure that we’re not making those same mistakes over and over again.”

He added: “There’s no expectation that we’re going to be perfect. I don’t’ think the community expects that from us. But there is the expectation that we’re going to be honest about it, and we’re going to put an honest effort to improve.”

On six LMPD chiefs in four years

While former LMPD Chief Erika Shields once warned that a steady churn of police chiefs could lead to increased misconduct and hurt performance, Humphrey said LMPD has worked to create structures, like the Accountability and Improvement Bureau, which he has led.

“That’s about creating systems that survive individuals,” he told The Courier Journal. “So when those systems can run themselves, that becomes the culture of your agency. Culture is stronger than policy. Culture is stronger than an individual.”

LMPD Acting Chief Paul Humphrey speaks at a June 12 press conference after his new role was announced.
LMPD Acting Chief Paul Humphrey speaks at a June 12 press conference after his new role was announced.

On witnessing LMPD missteps

Unlike Shields and Gwinn-Villaroel, Humphrey is a Louisville native. As such, witnessing the missteps of the department in recent years has weighed heavily on him.

“To watch the city and to watch the agency go through what we’ve been through in the last four or five years, in all honesty, it has hurt," he told The Courier Journal. "There are a lot of depressing moments. There are things that you look at, and it’s just plain embarrassing. And many of those are self-inflicted wounds."

He added: "What we can't tolerate is self-inflicted wounds, where we're causing our own problems and we're causing problems for the community. And unfortunately, we've done that too many times, and it's an embarrassment, plain and simple."

On becoming chief

Humphrey said he learned he was being named acting chief in a phone call with Louisville Mayor Craig Greenberg on June 12, though he declined to go into details about when exactly the phone call occurred.

He also declined to talk about the investigation into Gwinn-Villaroel — or about how he felt about the May 22 meeting in which Maj. Shannon Lauder raised sexual misconduct allegations against Maj. Brian Kuriger.

"This entire incident is going to be all under investigation, and it's all going to come out of the investigation what roles everyone played. So, I'm going to respect that process and not put any information out there publicly about the investigation," he said.

After Gwinn-Villaroel's suspension, Humphrey has been going to LMPD roll calls to speak to rank-and-file officers directly.

“The message is the same: It doesn’t matter who the chief is. It doesn’t matter who the mayor is. The role of the police officer is the same: it’s to keep people safe, protect constitutional rights and treat each other fairly. That doesn’t change," he said. "So, what we need officers to do is to ignore the noise that really doesn’t affect them and go out here and take care of people. There are bad people who need to be locked up, and there’s good people who need to be taken care of.”

Sibling of former LMPD chief

Then-interim Louisville Police Chief Yvette Gentry speaks to a Courier Journal reporter in 2020. Gentry is the sister of Acting LMPD Chief Paul Humphrey, who assumed his role on June 12, 2024.
Then-interim Louisville Police Chief Yvette Gentry speaks to a Courier Journal reporter in 2020. Gentry is the sister of Acting LMPD Chief Paul Humphrey, who assumed his role on June 12, 2024.

Humphrey is the brother of former interim LMPD Chief Yvette Gentry, who is 14 years his senior.

Gentry came out of retirement to lead LMPD in late 2020 as the department grappled with distrust over the killing of Breonna Taylor that March and months of protests that followed.

"She got to see a lot of things ... I was fortunate to learn a lot of lessons that others, frankly, don’t get exposed to along the way," he said. "And then, also being a sounding board off of each other when you’re having rough days and say ‘hey, how do I handle this?’ She’s a pretty awesome cop, but she’s an amazing sister. So I couldn’t ask for much more."

Reach reporter Josh Wood at jwood@courier-journal.com or on X, formerly known as Twitter, at @JWoodJourno.

This article originally appeared on Louisville Courier Journal: Paul Humphrey stresses Jacquelyn Gwinn-Villaroel still LMPD chief