Law enforcement officials say there were more homicides and more shootings in 2019 compared to 2018 in Louisville.
To date, 93 people have died by homicide in 2019, a 15 percent increase from 2018. There have also been 287 shootings, an increase of seven percent from last year. But U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Kentucky Russell Coleman said there would have been more homicides if federal law enforcement, hadn’t been involved.
“But for the efforts that we’re talking about today, but for this collaboration, but for us stepping in and bringing more significance sentences, that 93 number of Louisvillians that we’ve seen, would be considerably higher,” Coleman said.
Earlier this year the U.S. Department of Justice announced it would use U.S. Attorneys and federal law enforcement to coordinate better with local law enforcement to reduce gun violence and enforce federal firearms laws across the country.
Through the U.S. District for Western Kentucky, the federal government increased the number of felony offenders it indicted for the possession of a firearm: 118 in 2019 compared to 105 in 2018. Coleman said this is an improvement and the result of more coordination between federal and local law enforcement.
“No one up here would argue that we’re going to arrest our way out of 93 homicides, and almost 300 shootings,” Coleman said. “But our role is to punish, to deter, to make some space so that community organizations and nonprofits can step into these neighborhoods and try to push back as well.”
There were however, fewer indictments by Jefferson County grand jury this year, which is separate from federal indictments. About 688 people were charged by the grand jury for illegally having a handgun or firearm, which means prosecutors still had to prove guilt. That compares to 699 in 2018.
Louisville Metro Police Department Chief Steve Conrad said the uptick in murders and fewer indictments are in part due to a reduced budget from prior years.
“Our resources are limited, quite frankly, by budget,” Conrad said. “I’m not saying that the federal government has unlimited budget and unlimited amount of money, but the resources that they are throwing into this operation is tremendous and has been a great benefit.”
Conrad said county and state prosecutors now give longer convictions to felons charged with the possession of a handgun.
“It has real meaning, we’re adding time on and this cooperative effort between our offices,” Conrad said.
Coleman also said young people are being charged in most of these firearm and gun charges, in addition to homicides.
“We’re facing young people with firearms here; we’re facing those who shouldn’t have firearms carrying guns; we’re seeing a proliferation of illegal firearms, which is driving given the overlay of the narcotics,” Coleman said.
But Coleman said there hasn’t been much progress on enforcing background check systems, as there’s a need for improving communication between law enforcement and mental health providers when a person is turned down for a gun because of mental health issues.
“It’s tackling those attempts to purchase firearms by an individual that has no business legally purchasing them, and it’s doing a better job with law enforcement engaging with mental health and with treatment,” Coleman said. “We’re certainly not there yet. We’re talking about finally getting there in terms of collaboration amongst law enforcement agencies, when you get into the collaboration with the medical sector, mental health being a unique component of that, with treatment, it is a thorny, knot.”