Task force on violence in Louisville releases its report

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LOUISVILLE, KY. (WDRB) -- The task of reducing violence in Louisville will require an effort not just from government, but from police, schools, non-profits, businesses, the court system, and houses of worship.  That's the conclusion of a report released Thursday by the Violence Prevention Work Group. 

The report focuses on creating a culture in the city where every neighborhood is safe.  And it examines what the city can do both short-term and long-term to help prevent violence.

Short-term, the report recommends expanding police efforts, especially in the Parkland and Russell neighborhoods.  The mayor appointed the task force following a wave of violence in Louisville last spring, including a daylight double-shooting in Parkland.

LMPD Chief Steve Conrad has already been reorganizing the department along those lines, and has also created the Violence Incident Prevention Enforcement and Response (VIPER) unit.

"Violence is not a police problem," says Chief Conrad.  "Violence is a community problem."

Longer-term efforts, the report says, should include hiring a full-time Violence Prevention Coordinator and expanding and improving after-school and summer programs to help keep children and young adults off the streets.

"When you read this report," the mayor said, "there's something in this report that everybody in this community can do.  This should not be a report that people read like it's a piece of tourism and they're just looking at it from the inside.  People need to ask, 'How can I get involved?'"

Department of Public Health and Wellness Director Dr. LaQuandra Nesbitt and Dr. J. Blaine Hudson of the University of Louisville co-chaired the work group.  Community activists, ministers, law enforcement, educators, and social workers all contributed to the effort. 

Mayor Greg Fischer said in a news release, "It's clear from the report that city government or police alone cannot reduce violence. It takes an entire city — all 750,000 citizens — working toward this common goal."  The mayor says he and his leadership team will spend the rest of the year studying the report to see what the city can do next. 

He encouraged community leaders to examine the document and make recommendations.  "Turning this report into an action plan and implementing the recommendations will take time, but the work has already started," Fischer said. "We need community partners to tell us what role they can play."

The group had been meeting all summer and earlier on Thursday, before the release of the report, Mayor Fischer told WDRB News it would be a comprehensive report that would require some hard work.   In short, he said, there is no magic formula:  "No, if that was the case, we would have already done it. This is a holistic, systemic type of look from education to out-of-school time to neighborhood development. It's a lot of nitty-gritty, roll-up-your-sleeves, doing work in the community, one person at a time, one neighborhood at a time. It just requires that kind of focus. I mean, there's no instant pudding here, Otherwise it would have already been taken care of."

Five subcommittees made recommendations in the areas of community building, education, employment and economic development, health and social wellness, and juvenile and criminal justice. Highlights provided by the mayor's office include:

Community Building, chaired by Eleanor Jordan, resident of the Parkland neighborhood

  • Continue to tackle the significant and complex issues surrounding vacant and abandoned properties;
  • Restore neighborhood/community liaisons to assist in creating neighborhood associations and block watches;
  • Encourage the Louisville Metro Housing Authority to require orientation sessions for families moving into scattered-site housing to know what is expected of them as tenants;
  • Encourage construction of more market-rate housing in Western Louisville;
  • Encourage smaller churches to join together — and pool financial resources — to offer services around violence prevention and programs for ex-offenders.

Education, chaired by Dana Jackson-Thompson, executive director of the Network Center for Community Change, and Dr. Ricky Jones, UL professor

  • Create robust programs for youth while they're out of school;
  • Implement a comprehensive student support system which bridges school and community and addresses the academic/social/health/behavioral needs of students;
  • Increase the number of African-Americans enrolled in Advanced Placement courses;
  • Increase post-secondary attainment and graduation;
  • Develop violence prevention programs in the schools;
  • Develop a full-scale campaign to extol the benefits of a higher education and to create a college-going culture citywide.

Employment/Economic Development, chaired by Samuel Watkins, president of the Louisville Central Community Center

  • Focus economic development activity in specific areas of Western Louisville — Park Duvalle, the Old Walnut Street/Muhammad Ali corridor, West Market and West Broadway between 14th and 34th streets;
  • Make strategic public infrastructure investments for better streetscapes in those same four areas;
  • Ensure that West Louisville residents get a fair share of the jobs created by the Ohio River Bridges Project;
  • Grow and develop new entrepreneurs in Western Louisville;
  • Hire people from Western Louisville to care for vacant properties.

 Health/Social Wellness, chaired by Dr. Nesbitt

  • Create a Young Adult Fatality Review Committee to develop a comprehensive and systematic approach for reviewing young adults deaths;
  • Develop a suicide prevention program, to be led by the city Health and Wellness Department. More people in Louisville commit suicide than are murdered each year – and suicides have far-reaching impacts;
  • Create a Louisville Nature and Outdoor Stewardship Center in Shawnee Park to connect children to the outdoors;
  • Replicate Operation Ceasefire, originally created in Boston in the 1990s, that focuses on people involved in gangs and/or drug-related activities;
  • Create a Crisis Response Team to help victims' family and friends deal with the immediate aftermaths of homicides (formation and training is already underway). 

Juvenile/Criminal Justice, chaired by Circuit Judge Brian Edwards.

  • Develop programs to better integrate ex-offenders back into society;
  • Provide early intervention programs for young people the first time they have contact with the criminal justice system;
  • Create Community Accountability Boards where trained citizen volunteers resolve low-level crimes committed by juveniles;
  • Encourage expansion of mental health courts that service people who commit crimes due to mental illness;
  • Lobby for legislation to allow automatic restoration of civil and voting rights once ex-offenders serve their time.

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