Community

Local police officials are offering few details about their involvement in a multi-agency task force assembled earlier this year to combat surging violent crime in Louisville.

During a briefing Monday morning, Louisville Metro Police Chief Steve Conrad joined members of the FBI, ATF, DEA, U.S. Marshals, Metro Corrections and local prosecutors to provide reporters with cursory information on the task force’s work during the past two weeks.

The multi-agency unit is focused on identifying, arresting and prosecuting the city’s “most violent offenders,” Conrad told reporters during the some 40-minute long briefing at police headquarters in downtown Louisville.

It’s formation comes on the heels of a year racked with surging crime and a record level of criminal homicides.

To date, task force members served more than 100 warrants and arrested more than 80 individuals on charges that include murder, wanton endangerment, assault, robbery, burglary, rape, arson, as well as charges related to guns and drugs, Conrad said.

“This is only the start,” he said.

The task force will lead to better intelligence sharing and coordination among law enforcement, Conrad said.

And intelligence is the crux of the task force that’s been dubbed Louisville Metro Intelligence Task Force, or LMINTEL (pronounced “elemental”), for short.

“Our efforts are intelligence driven, based on information about where crime is occurring, when it is occurring and who we believe to be involved,” Conrad said.

He declined to say which surveillance tools are being utilized by task force members to acquire such information.

WFPL previously reported the police department spent more than $140,000 on social media surveillance technology. And late last year they secured an additional $40,000 to bolster their ability to glean data from residents’ cell phones.

The intelligence gathered will assist task force members, working in concert with the U.S. Attorney and Commonwealth’s Attorney, to build effective cases against people facing violent criminal charges, said John E. Kuhn Jr., the United States Attorney for the Western District of Kentucky.

Conrad also declined to say just how many law enforcement officers and agents are part of the task force, which will be led by Lt. Billy Hibbs, assistant director of LMPD’s Ninth Mobile Division.

Conrad offered no detail on how long the task force will endure in Louisville and exited the news briefing as reporters sought information about the cost of such a task force to local residents.

Measuring Success

Amy Hess, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Louisville Division, said the task force’s success depends, in part, on community support.

She said violence is concentrated in “a small area of the city” and the mission is to “rescue the neighborhoods that are plagued” by violent crime.

Hess also made a plea to residents that “see something or know something” related to violent crime to cooperate with law enforcement.

Witness cooperation in violent crimes, however, can be a tough sell when people are sometimes fearful of retaliation, according to a report from The Courier-Journal.

Yet still, Thomas B. Wine, the Commonwealth’s Attorney, told reporters Monday that “the community needs to step up.”

“The community is locking itself up and the community needs to step out and the community needs to be heard,” he said.

While the task force will focus on areas most beset by violent crime, Conrad said the “intelligence led effort” will steer task force members away from profiling residents who live in certain communities.

“Our efforts are entirely focused in on people’s behaviors, not the color of their skin or their gender or their religion or any other factor,” he said.

The formation of this most recent task force follows other renditions of multi-agency units focused on violent crime reduction.

In 2012, the police department assembled the now defunct VIPER Unit to tamp down drug and gang activity and to get repeat offenders off the streets. Before that unit was disbanded in 2015, it was extended and paired with federal agencies for a task force called “Operation Trust,” which focused on saturating high crime areas with police.

Shortly after “Operation Trust” was introduced, police officials announced the creation of the Ninth Mobile Division, which continues to operate and focuses on violent crime and removing illicit guns from city streets.

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