Louisville Metro Police’s VIPER Unit has helped reduce violent crime in nine out of 10 areas they’ve targeted, and they’ve also helped with the confiscation of 270 illegal guns—half of which were in the hands of convicted felons, officials said.
Police officials updated the Louisville Metro Council’s Public Safety Committee on Tuesday as the VIPER UNIT approaches the one-year-anniversary of its creation.
Deputy Chief Yvette Gentry and Lt. Johann Steimle, the VIPER Unit commander, told council members that the 30-member unit has had successes.
The VIPER Unit relies heavily on LMPD’s Crime Information Unit—another group formed in last year’s reorganization. Crime Information gathers a bunch of data and other intelligence and seeks out trends. They come up with areas (and times and dates, even) where they think crime is more likely to happen. With that information, the VIPER Unit goes on patrol.
“But we also look for criminal offenses that are occurring, we’re also looking for the people that we are focused on—the chronic violent reoffenders that are operating in the area,” Steimle said. “We’re looking for information from the community in the area. It’s not just go in and stop everybody. We are focused on different things once we go into the targeted areas.”
The VIPER Unit was created in a department-wide Louisville Metro Police reorganization meant in large part to address violent crime. It was also Chief Steve Conrad’s first chance to put his personal touch on the agency after taking over just a few months before.
The part of the reshuffling that got the most attention was the VIPER Unit—a task force, essentially, meant to focus on persistent violent offenders. The idea was that the worst criminals in Louisville were responsible for a disproportionate number of crime; if police targeted those criminals, it would make a large dent in the city’s problems with violence.
Violence was a big issue last summer after a widely discussed shooting in the Parkland neighborhood left three people dead—including one woman fatally shot in the presence of LMPD officers. Mayor Greg Fischer created a work group to study ways to address the violence issue.
Gentry told council members that police can do some good predicting on when and where some violent crimes will happen, but homicides aren’t really the sort of thing that can be anticipated. “They’re kind of spontaneous,” she said.
Gentry and Steimle said the VIPER Unit is involved in other initiatives meant to address violence, including working with offenders to keep them out of trouble and in the inter-agency collaboration Project Recoil, which focuses on guns.
Another point for the VIPER Unit is pushing for greater jail bonds for the repeat violent offenders they’re bringing into the court system. The idea, officials said, was to keep violent types in jail instead of arresting them and later finding them released on bail.
Gentry said they’ve gotten some cooperation from the court system.
“It’s getting better but we still have challenges there,” she said. “I know that they’ll say we can’t look through a crystal ball and who’s going to reoffend and who isn’t, but history repeats itself very frequently when you’re dealing with violent offenders. So we want to make sure that we’re collectively sending the message that if you shoot or hurt somebody, that’s not going to be tolerated in our city.”