Politics

Violent crime is continuing to spike across the city, according to the Louisville Metro Police Department.

Police Chief Steve Conrad on Wednesday told the Louisville Metro Council’s public safety committee that occurrences of violent crime through the end of February are up more than 4 percent compared with the same time last year.

The spike from January to February follows a similar trend in 2015 and 2014, Conrad said, when violent crime jumped 6 percent and 9 percent, respectively.

“That is a continuing trend that we need, as a community, need to work to address,” Conrad said.

He called the level of violent crime in Louisville “unacceptable” and not something police could solve by simply making arrests. He said each year, police make between 25,000 and 30,000 arrests.

Violent crime, according to the FBI’s crime reporting standards, includes murder, rape, robbery and aggravated assault.

As of March 29, Louisville police recorded 25 homicides. That’s up from 22 during the same time period in 2014, Conrad said.

More than 60 percent of murder victims in Louisville are African-American, and about 80 percent are male, Conrad said. He noted that those stats are consistent with previous years.

Police recorded 106 shootings through March 28 this year — 20 percent of which were fatal, Conrad said. At the end of February, the shooting total in Louisville was up nearly 50 percent compared with 2015, he noted.

“Which is obviously concerning,” he added.

Conrad linked the violence to poverty, drug addiction and a general lack of community support.

“I’m talking about our families, and I’m talking our schools, and I’m talking about our churches,” he said.

Conrad also said the police have played a role in the violence epidemic.

“Along the way, we’ve had opportunities to help people, we’ve had opportunities to send people on a different route, and they’ve ended up in a bad place,” he said. “All of us, together, has got us into this situation, and all of us, together, need to work to get us out.”

Easy access to guns is also a contributing factor in the surging homicide trend, Conrad said.

In 2015, police seized, on average, about 100 guns each month. This year, Conrad said the average number of guns seized per month has ballooned to nearly 150.

Gangs

LMPD Col. Kim Kraeszig told the council the city faces problems with gangs. Kraeszig said there are about two dozen “active gangs” in the city. They engage in drug trafficking, street robberies, home invasions and other offenses.

Eddie Woods, a community activist and youth mentor, said addressing the gang issue needs more than a response from police.

“It’s not even a police problem, it’s a community issue,” he said.

Woods said some in their late teens to early 20s are “counting on us not thinking we’ve got gangs,” meaning the lack of community intervention allows gangs a certain autonomy to recruit younger members.

“They don’t have a fear of systems, they don’t have a fear of law enforcement or structure, none of that,” he said.

Councilman David James, a Democrat from District 6 and chair of the council’s public safety committee, said the admission by Louisville police leaders that gangs exist in the city would enable the council and other city leaders to begin discussing a “holistic approach” to addressing the issue.

“You can’t address it if you don’t talk about it,” he said.

State law prohibits cities from enacting legislation related to gun control. But James said the council could take other measures to address violent crime in Louisville.

For instance, as the budget cycle approaches, council members could work with police and the mayor’s office to ensure funding for programs designed to reduce violent crime, he said.

Conrad said one of the council’s strongest mechanisms for reducing crime is the budget process.

“That isn’t necessarily more police officers,” he said. “That may be the need for more mental health professionals.”

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