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How Did So Much Violence Happen Saturday in Downtown Louisville?

Louisville Metro Police are increasing their visibility downtown after a string of violent incidents Saturday night, but community activists say there are underlying issues that should also be addressed.The series of events, via police, plays out like this:A group of young people, perhaps 200, were gathered at Waterfront Park on Saturday evening. Some began assaulting and robbing a 13-year-old near the Big Four Bridge; when a bystander intervened, they assaulted and robbed him. Officers responded and broke up the gathering—and that's when the real mayhem began.The large group splintered into several smaller groups. From about 7:45 p.m. to 9:45 p.m., police responded to "numerous" incidents in downtown Louisville, including assaults, robberies and acts of vandalism, Chief Steve Conrad said.They included a woman who was punched inside her car while stopped in traffic a block from the White Castle restaurant on First and Market streets. A group that vandalized the Bader's Food Mart on First Street, injuring a clerk in the process. An assault as far south as Sixth Street and Broadway.At least three people were sent to hospitals Saturday, and one teenager was arrested, Conrad said.Many of the people involved were minors, he added. Saturday night raises many questions. Many, many questions—about safety, about the city's response to crime, and what is going on with the kids.We'll address them in order:SafetyOn the safety aspect, Conrad characterizes what happened Saturday as uncommon for anywhere in the city. He noted that violent crime has decreased in Louisville the past two years.He vouched for the safety of Waterfront Park, but he added that LMPD was out of position to prevent the mayhem from starting in the first place. (More on that later.)No violent crime has been reported in Waterfront Park over the past three months, according to LMPD's online crime map. But it's important to remember that much of the last three months were cold/snowy/icy—and weather affects crime.We've asked for much more crime data in an open records request and will share what we find in the very near future.Conrad described Saturday's assaults, robberies and vandalism as "truly mob-like behavior.""I am convinced that there were young people who were caught up doing things that they would not have otherwise done," Conrad said.He's calling on youth leaders and community organizations to take steps during spring break (that's next week) to keep young people busy.And though Conrad says what happened Saturday is not common, in the sense that it doesn't happen every day, similar situations have happened before.ResponseLouisville Metro Police is taking steps to be more visible downtown, particularly in Waterfront Park and other areas with high foot traffic. That means more police on ATVs, bike and horseback.Conrad said LMPD had enough officers downtown Saturday to respond to the "numerous" incidents that happened that night. In addition to the normal patrol shift from LMPD's First Division, the VIPER Unit was also assigned to downtown. But they were mostly in patrol cars.Did LMPD have enough visibility at Waterfront Park and surrounding areas on Saturday night?"I think if there had been we wouldn't have had this issue," Conrad told me Sunday. "I think we had plenty of people working, I don't know that we had the level of visibility there that would have prevented this."(Note: Part of the VIPER Unit's mission is to target areas where data and information indicates crimes will happen. But Conrad said the increase VIPER anticipated was something else from what actually happened. They weren't expecting it, in other words.)The KidsMayor Greg Fischer is scheduled to have a meeting with community and city leaders Tuesday morning to discuss what happened Saturday, a spokesman said.Eddie Woods is a respected youth mentor and activist in West Louisville. Waterfront Park is a popular gathering point for young people all over the city, naturally. Wood said that includes groups that could be characterized as gangs, and they often end up that single place.“The mindset and being hyped up and all of that is geared toward some level of mayhem," Woods said. "You’ve got some folks that haven’t been taught peace at all. For the most part, they are around a lot of violence, they talk a lot of violent talk, a lot of threats are given in both directions.”More police will help address the crime issues at Waterfront Park—but it will do nothing to address the underlying issues that lead to situations like Saturday, he said.“Any time you have some level of a show of force, you’re pretty much going to have as a safe area," Woods said. "But the problem with that is, you’ve got to do more than have a safe area. You’ve got to have a change in mindset, a change in attitude, a change in what people are willing to protect.”The city and others have tried to focus on the issues of wayward youths. It's one of the things discussed in the city since the May 2012 Parkland shootings that left three dead,which led to the creation of awork group to issue recommendations for addressing violence in the city.Woods said he doesn't think efforts to dissuade young people from violence have been coordinated enough.“Most of our initiatives at this point have been totally from adult thinking, organized and the discussions have been from adult thinking," Woods said, adding, "They’ve got a whole other network that doesn’t have anything to do with adults.”He said more outreach needs to happen, but it has to be done in a coordinated fashion and in a way young people can embrace.

Joseph Lord is the online managing editor for WFPL.

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