Community

As one of Louisville’s deadliest, most violent years comes to a close, Mayor Greg Fischer is calling on a new leader for the city’s Office of Safe and Healthy Neighborhoods.

Fischer has tapped Rashaad Abdur-Rahman to replace Anthony Smith as the department’s head. Smith earlier this year stepped away from the post to take on the role as chief executive of Cities United in Washington, D.C.

Smith, who headed the department since its inception, said he’s confident Abdur-Rahman will be a good fit for the job.

“I think he’s going to take it to another level,” he said. “He’s got some skills I didn’t have.”

As head of the office for Safe and Healthy Neighborhoods, Abdur-Rahman will work with a cross-section of community partners to reduce homicides, suicides and overdoses in Louisville, Fischer said.

“And do so through a lens of public health and through a systematic fashion,” he said.

The post was created in 2013 on the recommendation of a city violence prevention task force, appointed following a 2012 high-profile daylight shooting incident in Parkland.

“We want every neighborhood to be both safe and healthy,” Fischer said.

Finding success in that push, though, has proved difficult this year, data shows.

To date in the 2015 calendar year, Louisville has had 82 homicides, 121 overdoses and 101 suicides, Fischer said.

This year’s homicide tally is at a near 35-year high, police data shows. Suicides are also spiking, this year, according to a report from the Courier-Journal.

Abdur-Rahman recognizes the challenges ahead in addressing these issues and stressed it will not be an overnight fix.

“There are so many different elements of what we’re seeing right now, and the sheer complexity of the issue didn’t occur overnight,” he said.

To find success in his new role, Abdur-Rahman said he’ll continue to see through the initiatives laid out by his predecessor.

That so-called One Love Louisville initiative was introduced earlier this year and brings with it 13 goals that aim to lead the department’s work through 2017. The goals focus on reducing violence and range from boosting civic and faith-based participation to limiting access to illegal substances.

Abdur-Rahman has worked on the initiative implementation team.

“I believe the strength in the plan is the community engagement and the collaboration with folk in the community,” Abdur-Rahman said. “We want to make sure we are driving and developing solutions and elements of this plan from the community.”

City officials — from Fischer to Louisville Metro Police Chief Steve Conrad, as well as Abdur-Rahman and his predecessor, Smith — have repeatedly stressed that the work of the Office for Safe and Healthy Neighborhoods will take time to be successful.

And they all stand by the notion that community engagement is a key.

Conrad said the crux of the effort hinges on getting public and private investment from businesses, non-profits and civic leaders. He said a key to getting Louisville to become a safer city is finding jobs for young people and residents with criminal backgrounds.

“This is all about trying to set people up for success,” he said.

In his new role, Abdur-Rahman will earn $73,000 annually. The office of Safe and Healthy neighborhoods is under the purview of Yvette Gentry, who Fischer earlier this year named the chief of Community Building for the city.

Abdur-Rahman previously worked for Family & Children’s Place as director of child welfare services, managing a budget of more than $400,000 and supervising 18 staff members.

Fischer also named Eric Friedlander as acting director of the city’s Department of Community Services. The department works on issues ranging from homelessness and quality of life for families.

This story has been updated.

Jacob Ryan is a reporter for the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting.