Louisville Metro Police Chief Steve Conrad testified before the Budget Committee on Wednesday that crime has increased by eight percent in the last year.
In recent weeks, the escalation of violence has concerned residents and gained the attention of community and city leaders. In May, a shooting spree in the Parkland neighborhood left three dead and three others injured including the brazen murder of Makeba Lee, 24, who was shot by Cheetara Goldsmith, 24, in front of officers.
Earlier this week, 15-year-old Tysha Spearman, a junior at Shawnee High School, was shot and killed and a 4-year-old was shot in the arm nearby the Parkway Place housing projects.
Conrad says the department is planning to create a new mobile unit that will target high crime areas and repeat offenders.
“For the coming year we are focusing on reducing violent crime. That should go without saying. We have pulled together a summer crime reduction task force, which involves identifying and arresting the worst of the worst, putting police officers in the most challenged areas, which we are referring to as hot spots,” he says.
But council members questioned Conrad on the use of preventative crime tactics and whether it is time to re-institute the gang unit that former Chief Robert White dissolved in 2003. Several lawmakers pressed the chief on crime fighting strategies and told WFPL more details are needed.
“If I had any differences with Chief White it was about the utilization of the officers,” Council President Jim King, D-10, told Conrad. “I think we have organized crime and gangs in our city that do a lot of this. I have no idea what it's all about, but drugs drive a lot of property and violent crime. And I think it's all related.”
Mayor Greg Fischer has named a 37-member task force to address systemic violence prevention ideas in response to the series of shootings. The work group is being led by University of Louisville professor J. Blaine Hudson and its first task is to get an inventory of youth services in the community.
The group will hold its first meeting next Monday in the mayor's office.
Councilman Kelly Downard, R-16, is the vice-chair of the budget panel. He says the chief has been honest with the council and the city's crime wave, and will be coming back to testify before the Public Safety Committee to go over the details.
“When you see a 15-year-old killed on the street it tells you that particular street isn't safe. The fact a 4-year-old girl is shot because she's standing in the wrong place, that means people don't care who is there—those are all disconcerting to me,” he says.
The chief told lawmakers that besides homicides, illegal drugs are also a growing concern for law enforcement and officers have seen a significant increase in seizing methamphetamine, cocaine and prescription drugs than in years past.
“Probably most disturbing is the amount of heroin that are officers are seizing,” says Conrad. “Our heroin seizures are up from just little over 2 pounds in 2010 to over 32 pounds in 2011, which represents a 1,329 percent increase. That is going to be a problem in our community.”
Councilwoman Attica Scott, D-1, says neighborhoods in her district are not safe and it’s time for Metro Government to act instead of talking about the problem.
“To be quite honest with you I’m a person who likes to move from dialogue to action, because we can keep talking, and talking and talking, but what people need to see and what people need to know and what people need to be a part of is some action that’s about reclaiming our streets, reclaiming our neighborhoods so that people can feel safe,” she says.
Since the May 17 shooting in her district, Scott has launched several initiatives, including a program recruiting lawn companies to cut grass at abandoned properties and crime prevention walk to connect residents and police and get them to work together.