City Lawmakers Skeptical of Violence Task Force Position

Louisville Metro Council members of both parties are questioning Mayor Greg Fischer for creating a new director for violence prevention in the wake of a West End shooting spree.

A 37-member task force group was formed after three people were fatally shot  in the Parkland neighborhood in May. Among the group’s dozens of recommendations was hiring a full-time coordinator to work on violence prevention and implement efforts in city government.

But Democratic and Republican lawmakers are unsure about the cost and argue the position is redundant because Metro Government already has a chief of police and director of public safety.

Councilman Kelly Downard, R-16, says Fischer was right to respond to the rash of homicides, but that his office hasn’t communicated what the new director is expected to do or what experience they should have.

“Is this the answer? Just to hire somebody? I mean throwing money to someone who has knowledge of the community and can mediate—I mean my gosh,” he says. “The whole job description sounds like it was written by somebody who just wanted to use adjectives, but not any concrete experience.”

Among the 22 requirements listed are knowledge of the community’s cultural needs, mediation skills and a decade working with youth programs. The coordinator is also expected to be able to deal with physical, psychological and sociological needs of at-risk individuals in high crime areas.

The mayor’s office has said the violence prevention director will be paid between $70,000 and $90,000 annually. The position will be funded in part by not filling vacancies in the police department.

The Fischer administration is making the case that the new director is an ambitious yet long-term effort to tackle violence, and that once observers study its goals their opinions will change.

“This director of violence prevention is much greater than the police force or anything we currently have because it needs to bridge the public, government, law enforcement, non-profits, school system and foundations,” says mayoral spokesman Chris Poynter. “It’s a holistic view and we need this one person who is thinking about what ways to reduce violence. It’s much broader than a police chief or public health director.”

When the task force first launched, University of Louisville Arts & Sciences Dean J. Blaine Hudson was the chair of the group before stepping down due to health reason.

He told WFPL in June that other studies had been conducted before, but that this was the first time city government itself took a serious look at addressing violence in west Louisville, beyond increased policing.

Hudson also noted that the task force’s success would be largely dependent on whether city officials had the will to properly fund and sustain the group’s recommendations and findings.

“It’s very similar to what a family would do if they sat down and decided this issue is important, and that’s what the mayor has done,” Poynter says. “He sat down with the police chief and said ‘This director of violence prevention is very important for our city, but I don’t want new taxpayer money so let’s figure it out.’”

But Councilwoman Attica Scott, D-1, who represents the Parkland area, says she isn’t sure how a new post will help because the mayor has done little to gain support among residents and neighborhood leaders.

“It looks like we’re jumping directly to creating a position rather than looking at the report and saying what’s already happening that needs to be strengthened and improved, which is one of the tasks we need to look at,” she says.

“We get these kind of task forces and reports quite often who usually have the same folks involved creating them. But if the community has not bought in and we haven’t done the work to outreach to folks in neighborhoods about the recommendations then it really doesn’t matter who you hire to do the work if you don’t have community support,” Scott adds.

Applications for the position close Monday, and the mayor expects to announce the new director in early 2013.

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