Community

Louisville Metro Police is teaming with federal law enforcement agencies to establish a new task force to address a recent surge in homicides, officials announced on Thursday.

Since the start of 2015, LMPD has responded to 20 homicides, Louisville Metro Police Chief Steve Conrad said. It’s a rate more than six times higher than at the same time last year. The number of reported gunshots during the same period is nearly the same this year as last year, though, said Lt. Todd Kessinger, commander of the LMPD homicide unit.

He added that many of the murders likely have ties to narcotics.

The special unit is dubbed “Operation Trust,” Chief Conrad said. It will be an extension of the police department’s VIPER unit—established in 2012 to tackle drug and gang activity and to get repeat offenders off the streets.

The task force will allow for more officers to be put into “hot spots” of crime activity, said police spokesman Phil Russell.

Russell said it’s important to “saturate” high crime areas with police in order to effectively battle activity associated with drugs and to get illegal weapons off the street.

“We think that is a layer here,” he said.

Police wouldn’t release many details regarding the task force, such as its size and what units the officers will be pulled from across the city, Russell said.

“What you have when you have a task force is to take resources from various units within LMPD, but you’re also combining efforts from task forces at federal agencies like the DEA, the ATF, the FBI and the (U.S.) Marshals,” said LMPD spokesman Phil Russell.

And federal agents are key because “they have opportunities to cross state and other jurisdictional boundaries,” he added.

The task force will be a temporary assignment for officers, he said.

The need to bolster VIPER Unit doesn’t necessarily mean the specialty unit isn’t successful, Russell stressed.

“They’ve been hugely successful,” he said. Adding that the unit secured nearly 600 illegal weapons from the street just last year.

“The point is we are expanding upon what the VIPER Unit is doing,” he said.

Conrad said combating this surge of violent crime early in the year requires more than just a response from law enforcement.

Nearly every crime has a witness, he said, and he encouraged those witnesses to come forward and help make their community safer.

“We cannot arrest our way out of this problem,” he said.

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