Metro Police Chief Steve Conrad on Wednesday said the teenage mob rampage through downtown Louisville in March was not a riot, noting that his officers are limited as to how they can handle juvenile offenders.
The chief, joined by educators and community leaders, made the comments during a panel discussion about the brief spike in violence, which caused an outcry from concerned residents.
Since the March 22 incident at Waterfront Park, the city has spent nearly $1 million in police overtime. That’s in addition to the approximate $277,000 for two-dozen security cameras.
Mayor Greg Fischer’s office has increased funding for Metro Police in the upcoming budget through a proposed LG&E fee. The mayor has also sought to examine ways to tighten the teen curfew law as a way to hold parents or guardians more accountable.
Conrad said due to state law Louisville police have don’t have many options when it comes to youth unless a crime is being committed.
“Kids out being disorderly, that’s something we can deal with. Kids out robbing stores, that’s something we can deal with. Kids just hanging out isn’t illegal,” he said.
“And I think there is some frustration with law enforcement in the way we addressed March 22 because we didn’t snatch up a bunch of kids and take them to the detention center,” Conrad added. “The truth is short of us seeing them committing the unlawful acts we don’t have the lawful authority to do that.”
When it comes to the curfew law, Conrad said officers are allowed to stop and identify a child under the age of 18 and direct them to go home, but little else.
Few curfew citations have been written for youths 17 and younger. The curfew stands at 11 p.m. on weekdays and 1 a.m. on weekends. The chief told those attending the Louisville Forum event that about 92 percent of these cases are dismissed due to loopholes in the curfew ordinance.
Like truancy laws, curfew violations are status offenses and local police are prohibited under state law from arresting a child found in violation of such laws.
Just this year state lawmakers moved to reform the juvenile justice system in the opposite direction that Conrad and city leaders have called for going in the wake of the Waterfront mob violence.
In 2011, the Courier-Journal reported Kentucky was jailing youths for status offenses at among the highest rates in the country.
Those juvenile justice changes were passed with overwhelming bipartisan support, including new reforms this year, with backing from organizations such as Kentucky Youth Advocates, which outlined why the use of incarceration for such violations does not work.
The chief, however, said allowing police to at least detain children in violation of those laws would give parents immediate accountability.
“I don’t think they should be arrested,” said Conrad. “I think we should have the ability to be able to take that them into custody to be able to take them home, and then deal with their parents there.”
A Fischer spokeswoman said they are still “reviewing possibilities” in terms of amending the curfew ordinance.