RAW VIDEO | WDRB confronts city leaders about escalating violence in Louisville
Should Chief Conrad keep his job? Should the mayor have called a press conference Thursday night? What is the city doing to stop the escalating violence?
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Just over 24 hours after the city of Louisville was rocked by a mass shooting in Shawnee Park, WDRB sat down with city leaders to confront them about the escalating violence -- and how they plan to deal with it.
WDRB interviewed Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer, Louisville Metro Police Chief Steve Conrad and Yvette Gentry, Louisville's Chief of Community Building, late Friday afternoon. The raw video of that interview is included with this story. A full transcript is provided below.
In no uncertain terms, Mayor Fischer reiterated his support of Chief Conrad during the interview, despite recent criticism from Metro councilmembers and the Fraternal Order of Police in the wake of a record year in murders.
When WDRB asked Conrad if he felt his job may be in danger, Fischer interrupted, saying, "let me answer that."
"Police Chief Conrad has my full support," Fischer said. "Now is not a time for people to be second guessing and blaming."
Fischer said the latest shootings and murders on Thanksgiving Day at Shawnee Park during the annual Juice Bowl -- putting the city at a record number of homicides (112) -- are not simply a Louisville police issue, but part of a nationwide uptick in gun violence.
However, in response to what local police are doing, Conrad said the department is working on a three-pronged attack.
He said 50 percent of the shootings so far this year took place in 11 neighborhoods.
"No one wants to have their neighborhood labeled, but we consider these neighborhoods hot spots, and we're focusing our patrol efforts in these 11 neighborhoods in particular," Chief Conrad said.
Additionally, Conrad said police have identified a number of people who are responsible for the shootings this year and are working with federal law enforcement to make arrests.
And Conrad said police believe many of the shootings are drug-related, so more officers will be tasked with narcotics enforcement.
"We are coming at in in terms of places, people and a specific focus on narcotics trafficking," Conrad told WDRB.
But both the mayor and chief stressed that there is no simple, quick solution.
“For anybody to act like this can be solved overnight, that is fantasy,” Fischer said.
A full transcript of the interview is provided below:
WDRB: Why do you think there has been so much violence in our community, this year in particular?
FISCHER: Well unfortunately, it's not just a problem for our city. This is a real national epidemic that's going on right now. Three quarters of U.S. cities are seeing these significant upticks in violent crime, like we are.
But when you take a look at the violent crime in our city, just like all over the country, it usually has a couple of things involved. One is illegal drug activity and two is improper use of guns and people's inability to solve problems. So that's an issue, domestic violence is an issue, then you have random violence like we saw yesterday. It's just not helpful. It's a real national epidemic.
WDRB: Now those are all things that are not new this year, but really, homicides are up this year. We just reached a record in Jefferson County last night. What makes this year so different.
CONRAD: I think it's the continuation of a trend. I think the mayor spoke to that. We saw crimes -- or homicides and violent crime in general -- on the rise last year, and that trend has continued this year. Almost half of the people who have been shot -- not necessarily killed -- are under the age of 25.
We seem to have, as the mayor mentioned, at least some people, an inability to be able to resolve a problem without using a gun. Our guns are so incredibly easy to get ahold of in this country. And I think we just have this culture of violence in this country but we're experiencing it here, that continues to lead people to believe that the only way they can solve a problem is to pull out a gun and shoot someone. And the tragedy that was yesterday happened on Thanksgiving -- what was supposed to be a family event -- and forever seven families have had their lives change.
WDRB: And Chief Conrad, this question is for you, what are concrete examples of things that you are doing – and your department is doing – to decrease these crimes?
CONRAD: We’ve been coming at violent crime in our community from three basic directions.
First and foremost, almost 50 percent of the shootings we’ve seen have been happening at about 11 neighborhoods in our community. No one wants to have their neighborhood labeled, but we consider these neighborhoods hot spots, and we’re focusing our patrol efforts in these 11 neighborhoods in particular. We are supplementing their work with members of the 9th Mobile Division, who are focusing their efforts on these neighborhoods as well.
We have identified a number of people we believe are involved in actually pulling the triggers, or having someone else pull the triggers to further their criminal activities. We are working actively with our federal partners – the FBI, the DEA, the ATF and the United States Marshals office – to try to arrest these people to hold them accountable for the criminal activity that they are involved in.
And the third thing that we’re trying to do is focus more energy and more efforts on narcotics trafficking and to disrupt the narcotics trafficking that we’re seeing in our city. We have had a number of our homicides this year, where we may not necessarily know the motive for the homicide, but there is evidence at the scene – or information that is developed during our investigation – that leads us to believe that the homicide was caused by someone buying drugs, selling drugs or trying to rob someone in the process of doing one of those two things. So it was clear to us that we needed to spend more time and more effort dedicating detectives toward the investigation of narcotics, particularly at that street level, which is also a problem in many of those neighborhoods that are seeing the violence. So we’re coming at it in terms of places, people, and the specific focus on narcotics trafficking.
FISCHER: And there’s also a significant prevention part of that as well…
FISCHER: …we’re working with our Safe and Healthy Neighborhoods. I don’t know if you want to ask Yvette about that...
FISCHER: …so it’s not just all policing.
WDRB: Right. I have a couple of concrete questions that I want to ask first and then we can get into that if there’s time if that’s okay.
FISCHER: But that’s a big part of the story. It’s not just about police and more policing.
WDRB: Okay. My next question was, given statements from the FOP and the city council about concerns with your leadership, Chief Conrad, do you feel that your job is in jeopardy?
FISCHER: Well, let me answer that. Who the police chief is depends on who I set as the police chief. Police Chief Conrad has my full support. We’re hiring a record number of police officers this year, and have 28 more coming with the mid-year adjustment that is being presented to the council. So I feel they will approve that expeditiously.
What’s important is that people get behind the plan that we have and support that plan. Now is not the time where people should be second-guessing and blaming. This isn’t a problem of increased violence just in our city – it’s happening all over the country. So the best way for us to move forward is to support a good plan, give a reorganization time to work and work on reducing crime in our community. The chief is responsible for that.
WDRB: That was my next question to ask you – your confidence in the chief – so that answers that. Thank you. Last night, Councilwoman Jessica Green – this question is for you, mayor – she released a statement on Facebook saying, “Certain events bring people to west Louisville, who then have the luxury of getting back in their cars and fleeing to neighborhoods that are not riddled with gun violence.” Do you think she was talking about you? You were at the event yesterday. Do you think she was talking about you?
FISCHER: I spend an extraordinary amount of time in the city. People know that I am very present in all parts of the city. Yesterday I was at the Juice Bowl. I try to go every Thanksgiving because it’s a great community event –and it was yesterday too until this incident took place.
So what I can tell you is, from Day One, public safety has been, by far, the Number One resource item in our budget. It’s continued that emphasis every year. We’ve learned new programs, we’ve added new programs as well, and we’re going to continue to do that. What we need is for everybody to work together on this.
WDRB: Do you think that there was more that you could have done last night, to kind of address the issue…last night?
WDRB: Well, we just broke…I guess my question is, last night was a pretty monumental night because we broke a record in Jefferson County for homicides in a year, that dates all the way back from 1971…
WDRB: …and I think that a lot of people were kind of looking for leadership last night, and do you think you gave the appropriate leadership last night, when, you know, media outlets – we asked you if you could come on our station and talk to people last night. Do you think that you handled it properly?
FISCHER: Well, we put out numerous statements last night, which I think was important and set the tone for the event. And the investigation was ongoing as well.
The important thing is is that we have a plan, we continue to work the plan, we bring in federal resources to take a look at the plan. They all give us the same kind of advice, which is to keep doing what you’re doing. Double down. Bring the community in as well. This is one with day-to-day efforts. It’s not big speeches or big pronouncements. It’s hard work. If it was easy, it would already be done. If somebody had a simple solution, that would already be put forth as well, but for any of us to act like this is something that can be solved overnight, I think that’s a fantasy. And I believe people know that as well. And they see us with a plan and they see us working hard. There’s a lot of people exasperated and frustrated by this. Obviously none more so than us, and the families involved in this.
WDRB: My next question: I interviewed Neal Robertson from the West Louisville Coalition last night, and I asked him specifically, “How do you feel that children yesterday saw that violent crime happen right before their eyes?” He said to me he watched someone’s brains blown out – that was a quote from him – and he told me, he looked me dead in the eye and said, “They’re used to it by now.” How do you feel that people in your city think that that’s normal behavior?
FISCHER: Well Neal was by me when that took place, so he was not by where the shooting took place. He might have seen it afterwards.
But anytime that people think that violence is normal in a community is a symptom of a larger sickness in the community. From a public health perspective, we look at this as people are learning from the environment that they grow up in, and if it’s a violent environment and they think violence is normal, or they see that as part of the culture that we live in, that’s a problem – not just a problem in Louisville. It’s a problem all over our country right now. That’s why we try to attack this problem through our Safe and Healthy Neighborhoods perspective, to surround the kids with positive influences. If they’re not getting it from their family or somewhere else, we have to try to provide that.
When I say “we,” I mean everybody in the community. It’s not people looking at government and saying “This is government’s problem,” or “It’s the church’s problem.” We can only move forward when everyone says it’s a problem that they’re going to be personally involved with. So for people to act like this isn’t a problem is disingenuous. For people to say there’s no plan, that’s wrong. What we need is people to say, “Here’s how I can help.”
UNIDENTIFIED OFF-CAMERA VOICE: Jessica, we’ve got time for two more.
WDRB: Okay. I’ll ask Chief Conrad, then I’ll get to you. I’m sorry. I just want to make sure with the mike situation that we’re ready to go. [TO CONRAD] Your face kind of lit up when I asked that question. Did you have anything that you wanted to add to that?
CONRAD: You know, we always are concerned – there are many studies that talk about the impact on kids who witness violence. That violence could be happening in their homes, in terms of domestic violence, or it could be happening out on the street, as was the situation in our park – his was the situation yesterday. It’s concerning to us, and I think, as a community, we need to make sure that these kids are getting the resources they need to be able to deal with that trauma.
One of the programs we put in place a number of years ago was reaching out to JCPS after there had been domestic violence in a home to make sure that the schools were aware that that child may not be necessarily focused on their schoolwork in a given day.
This is just another example of us needing to double-down our efforts to make sure that these families and these kids are getting the help they need so they don’t end up having problems with what they have witnessed. We don’t want to see that behavior repeated – and I think that’s why the work of the office of Safe and Healthy Neighborhoods is so important.
WDRB: Great transition. [TO GENTRY] What is your organization doing to kind of help stop this?
GENTRY: Well, I think the thing that – you know, Safe and Healthy Neighborhoods – we’re looking to expand to, right now, we’ve got four full-time and one part-time person in the office, but, we work with a lot of the stakeholders that are in contact with kids every day through mental health, from our Seven Counties partners, to our business leaders.
One of the things that we realized was adverse childhood experiences do have an effect on children when they get older, so we want to protect our children at all costs. That is our primary focus. Yes, we do focus mainly on the 14- to 24-year-olds and we want people to understand that.
Even from a parental standpoint, I mean, I can’t tell you how many times through the years I was at the police department where we would see a crime scene and people would have their child on their hip. And now there’s so much information out there that says seeing that over and over and over again has a negative impact on a child. Of course it does.
So the police department has their role they’re playing to make the neighborhood safe, but all of us have a role we can play, and that’s by making sure we encourage our young people – that we realize that when they’re in those middle school age and those young, vulnerable years, that we’re exposing them to positive things, getting them out of their regular environment and exposing them to this big world out there, so they can dream a little bit bigger.
And in the meantime, the adults have to step up and make sure we’re protecting them as best we can. So that’s gonna take everybody’s effort. It’s not gonna be – you know, the government is not gonna be able to be the people to solve all the problems. We do need to invest. We are going to double down and give more opportunities to people. But we absolutely have to do our very, very best to protect our children from those. That comes from the mother who has a child on the hip, to the child that’s coming in selling drugs and people are turning a blind eye to it, to all of the above.
WDRB: Thank you very much.
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