LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Violent crime is claiming lives at an alarming rate in Louisville, a nationwide trend that started in 2020.
The statistics are made up of hundreds of personal stories. Lakesia Jeffery and her family are living that reality, and the last 12 months have been the most difficult of her life.
"It's been the toughest, because it puts you in the reality that they're not coming back," said Jeffery, the mother of a homicide victim.
Last December, her son, 26-year-old John Robert Johnson Jr., an Atlanta rapper, was home for the holidays when he was shot and killed. Johnson was with a friend, leaving a convenience store on Gagel Avenue in south Louisville.
"I think it was two guys walked up with masks on and shot in the car, close range," Jeffery said.
Right now, the case is unsolved, but Louisville Metro Police recently released images and surveillance video of the suspects running to a car and leaving the scene.
2020 ended with a record 173 homicides in Louisville, but the gunfire continued into the new year. The first part of January claimed the lives of Jennifer Whittaker, Jihad Powell, Herbert Daniels and several others, and as 2021 comes to an end, there have been nearly 200 homicides.
"Each one of those is someone's child, parent, loved one," said Metro Councilman Mark Fox, a retired LMPD major. "I can tell you exactly the number of unsolved cases I had when I retired with 30 years of service. That number was four, and I can take it each location where they were."
According to the annual FBI Crime Report, the ongoing violence is part of a nationwide trend, but Fox said that's no excuse.
"I don't like the answer of ...'Well, it's going on everywhere,'" he said. "Well, I didn't run for office and get elected everywhere. I ran for office, and I got elected to this area, very specifically, south Louisville. And it's my job to fix what's on the plate, and that's what's on the plate."
LMPD Chief Erika Shields said one approach is to target the people putting the guns in the hands of our youth.
"Let’s get the individuals that are moving money across the United States, who are bringing money into Louisville and who are recruiting these kids into their gangs," Shields said, adding that police need help from the community and schools. "Because whatever is transpiring in school during that eight or 10 hours is going to make its way back to the neighborhoods."
Fox believes the recent trend started after a policy change.
"We critiqued then-Chief Steve Conrad in 2018 over a traffic stop," he said. "The very next day, he changed that traffic stop policy. Shortly after that, the police officers just said ... 'We're gonna stop pulling people over all together.' And we went from an average of 75-80 homicides a year — it skyrocketed from there."
"People need to step up in our city," Jeffery added. "Louisville is too small for all the homicides that we have. I mean, it's getting to where it's normal, and it shouldn't be normal in our city, not normally losing kids. There should be consequences for the detectives, for the Senate, for the government to put a law in place to say that these cases have to be very well-detected within 24-48 hours."
Jeffery said she would not hesitate to speak up and encourages others to do the same.
"Everybody needs to be involved," she said. "Facebook needs to be involved, because when we were in quarantine, that's where it all started. It started on social media. Social media needs to be looking at what they're saying on Facebook. Because it's starting from there. It started from the schools. It started from telephone, text messages. We all need to be involved. Everybody needs to come together because ... you don't want this to hit your house."
A spokesperson from Mayor Greg Fischer's office released a statement saying:
"As the Mayor has said, these numbers are heartbreaking and further show the great challenges that have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic here and throughout the country. This is not an acceptable norm, which is why we are making unprecedented investments in public safety and social services. Our whole-of-government approach to public safety includes investments in community mobilization, prevention and intervention, enforcement, organizational change and re-entry. This year we’ve quadrupled the city’s investment in violence prevention efforts from $5 million to $19 million, and in our latest round of American Rescue Plan (ARP) funding, we included $42.6 million to reduce violence and increase safety in neighborhoods. We’re also prioritizing social service programs like the deflection pilot project that will deflect some 911 calls to a non-police response, and also included funding for suicide prevention, substance abuse and addiction in our first round of ARP funding.
This is far too large a challenge for any one person. We need help from our state and federal partners to combat these issues. We also need help from the public. We urge anyone with information on criminal activity to please call LMPD’s anonymous tip line at (502) 574-LMPD (5673). And if you or a loved one is struggling with mental health issues or substance abuse, please call the Seven Counties 24/7 Crisis Line at (502) 589-4313.
We must come together and work together to reverse this devastating and unacceptable trend in our community."
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