SUNDAY EDITION | Police Chief: Waterfront 'definitely safer' one - WDRB 41 Louisville News

SUNDAY EDITION | Police Chief: Waterfront 'definitely safer' one year after mob violence

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Last Sunday, as temperatures finally warmed, about 150 to 200 teenagers swarmed the Big Four Bridge area downtown. They confronted, intimidated and cursed at Waterfront Park visitors.

But the incident was defused without any arrests or violence, at least in part because of the lessons learned and changes implemented in the wake of the mob violence that broke out at Waterfront Park and captivated the city one year ago today, Louisville Metro Police Chief Steve Conrad said in an interview Thursday.

Police were seemingly caught flatfooted last year when about 200 teens attacked two men on the bridge and then broke off in groups that wreaked havoc downtown for more than two hours, attacking and robbing people, jumping on cars, smashing windows and looting businesses.

But thanks to a permanently increased police presence at the waterfront, the incident earlier this month was contained, Conrad said.

“This past Sunday, we could have had another March 22,” Conrad said. “The plans we put in place worked the way they should have.”

Last Sunday, four officers working overtime at the waterfront were quickly able to engage the group and ask them to leave. The teens were then monitored as they moved south by the new Real Time Crime Center surveillance cameras and analysts.

Police followed the teens and warned the nearby White Castle at First and Market streets, and Bader's Food Mart on S. First Street, that they may want to lock their doors. When about 50 of the juveniles congregated at the White Castle, and were not buying food, police called in TARC busses to pick them up.

The incident shows the kind of response that residents can expect from now on for disturbances in the vicinity of Waterfront Park, Conrad said.

“Police presence in the park is important and is something we plan to continue,” Conrad said. “People need to feel comfortable coming to Waterfront Park.”

Since the 2014 mob violence, Metro government has been paying officers overtime to patrol the waterfront on a regular basis.

In the few months after the attacks, officers worked more than 36,000 hours in overtime, an increase of 24 percent from the previous year, according to a WDRB analysis of Metro government payroll records.

It cost more than $1.3 million, a 31 percent increase in overtime payments from the same time period in 2013. Conrad said $400,000 to $500,000 of that money was spent putting officers around the waterfront area.

For the year, officers worked 22 percent more overtime hours than in 2013.

About $730,000 was allocated for police overtime at the Waterfront for the current fiscal year budget ending June 30, with about one-third of that remaining. The department is also up to 1,246 officers -- 28 more than a year ago. 

In future years, the waterfront will be staffed full-time by additional officers hired to work in the department's recently opened Downtown Area Patrol located at Second and Jefferson streets.

An estimated 15 officers will eventually be added to the downtown area patrol location, which will eliminate the need for overtime payments to patrol the waterfront.

“This overtime will go away,” Conrad said. “That's not intended to be a permanent situation…We will be able to do the kinds of things we're doing now with officers on a regular salary.”

Conrad noted there has been a drop in crime in the downtown area since the increased overtime and opening of the Real Time Crime Center four months ago. The crime center includes a supervisor and nine crime analysts  watching dozens of surveillance cameras throughout the metro area, 24 hours a day.  

The city also purchased software that monitors social media to get hints of large gatherings -- there was nothing out of the ordinary warning police about a potential large gathering last Sunday -- and Conrad said the city's online crime mapping system has been updated, fixing numerous glitches.

Conrad cited a 14 percent reduction in crime in the central business district downtown from 2013 to 2014. So far this year, there has been a nearly 24 percent decrease in that area, which is bounded by Broadway, the Ohio River, 9th Street and Floyd Street.

“It absolutely is safer,” Conrad said.

Paula Bader, owner of Bader's Food mart, told Metro Council members last year that mob incidents occurred "several times a week” and had for years.

In a recent interview, however, Bader said “It's been a very quiet year” since the mob incident. 

“I haven't had to lock our doors. My employees feel a little safer. We don't know where the kids went to because we dealt with kids issues for many years,” she said.

Some have complained about a perceived lack of punishment for the March 2014 crime spree that, even Conrad acknowledged, has “become a pretty infamous incident in our community.”

Louisville Metro government recently agreed to pay $1.5 million to four young men who claimed they were racially profiled when they were wrongfully arrested on robbery and other charges the night of the mob violence.

Seven other people were charged in connection to last year's mob violence, including six juveniles. But juvenile courts in Kentucky are closed to the public, and prosecutors said they could not talk about what happened with those cases. One adult, 19-year-old Jerece Archie, pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct and was sentenced to two days in jail last April.

Sgt. Phil Russell, a spokesman for police, said while the investigation is still open a year later, police think only about 12 to 18 of the some 200 youths in the mob were actually violent.

Louisville Metro Councilman David James, who represents Old Louisville, agreed with police that “positive changes and positive plans have been put in place,” but he said, “we have a long way to go.”

The council is still waiting for the results of an outside study as to whether the police department has enough officers and whether the force is being used efficiently. He said a preliminary report is expected in mid-April.

James -- a police officer himself with the campus force at the University of Louisville -- also noted that this is not just a police issue, but one the entire community must “come together to address.”

Anthony Smith, Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer's Director of Safe Neighborhoods, said he has worked with community groups, leaders and churches to find more activities for young people.

In the past year, he said, community centers have extended their hours, with a handful adding computer labs and creating teen lounges. In addition, Smith said the city held a “teen party” recently for kids 17 and under, and is holding another on March 27 in community centers.

Over the summer, the city hired community center employees to go door to door telling young people about the programs and times they could come to the centers.

And Fischer has asked city employees and community members to mentor young people through community organizations, such as Big Brothers Big Sisters.

City workers are given two paid hours a week to mentor and Smith said businesses have been encouraged to offer their employees a similar opportunity.

“I think we've had a lot of success in the last year,” Smith said. “There's still work to be done.”

Smith said he heard about what happened last Sunday and while the city doesn't condone any intimidating or violent behavior, young people are “going to gather no matter where it is” and need to be accepted at the waterfront.

“It's not about shunning them from the park,” he said. “It's about accepting them and embracing them like we do everybody else.”

And Smith noted that thousands of people have enjoyed Waterfront Park without incident in the last year.

“Let's not let this one day stop us from going down there,” he said. “There have been tons of people who have still used that park from all over Louisville from all walks of life…We don't want it to happen again and we're doing all we can to make sure it doesn't ever happen again.”

Related:

Downtown business owner says violent teen mobs not uncommon 
Mayor calls for calm after mob of teens assault, rob victims 
Louisville man claims mob of teens attacked him day before downtown riots 
LMPD investigating string of attacks in downtown Louisville 
Suspect charged with murder after 14-year-old TARC stabbing victim dies
LMPD: Teens at Big 4 Bridge had gathered to remember TARC stabbing victim


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