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Public Safety Committee Head Wants More Louisville Police Input

The new chairman of the Louisville Metro Council's public safety committee expects more regular input from police in the coming year.

Councilman David James, Democrat from District 6, said he'll be looking for briefings on crime statistics and updates from police leaders on efforts to reduce criminal activity in the city.

James, a former police officer, was appointed chair of the council's five-member, bipartisan public safety committee earlier this year.

He acknowledged that the committee's past leadership did not regularly seek updates from Louisville Metro Police on city-wide crime trends.

But James said he intends to seek those regular updates this year.

Last year, despite a near 30-year high for homicides in Louisville, the city's police chief formally addressed the spike in violent crime just once, according to the public safety committee's meeting minutes.

Police officials on eight other instances offered formal updates on department studies or provided input relating to proposed ordinances or grant funding, the minutes show.

Council President David Yates, Democrat from District 25, served as chair of the public safety committee in 2015.

Yates said council members should develop relationships with police commanders within their respective districts to stay abreast of situations that may periodically need to be addressed by the council's committee.

"It wouldn't make sense for you to constantly have them coming back to inform you of the same information you already have, especially if you already have that correspondence in place," he said.

He said committees can also occasionally get bogged down in the regulatory and administrative particulars of crafting city policy, he said, leaving little time for "seminars" from law enforcement.

"When your dealing with pending legislation, you've got to deal with that first," Yates said.

For example, an ordinance regulating short-term rental units took up much of the committee's time during the second half of 2015, council minutes show.

More recently, the committee dedicated an hour long meeting discussing a proposal to impose penalties on retailers stricken with stray shopping carts.

Councilwoman Julie Denton, Republican from District 19, said while such issues may warrant consideration from council members they should not be under the purview of the council's public safety committee.

"Police, fire, EMS, those are the true safety issues in my book," said Denton, who is vice chair of the committee.

James said he recognized addressing the city's public safety issues goes beyond discussion's with the city's police department.

"But the police play a big role in that," he said. "The agencies and the people that are responsible for delivering public safety to our communities are the people I think we should have in the public safety committee for the education of the public safety committee and the education of the community."

James' first call for a police briefing as committee chair came this week, when he summoned the police department's assistant chief, Greg Burns, to update the council on 2016 violent crime statistics.

Burns told council members that the number of homicides are down compared to last year, but shooting numbers are up.

James also plans to invite Louisville Metro Police Department Chief Steve Conrad to address the committee later this month regarding gang activity in the city.

Jacob Ryan is the managing editor of the Kentucky Center for Investigative reporting. He's an award-winning investigative reporter who joined LPM in 2014. Email Jacob at jryan@lpm.org.

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