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As Cities Struggle To Solve Homicides, Louisville Looks To Atlanta

LMPD chief Steve Conrad
LMPD chief Steve Conrad

Around 45 percent of homicides in Louisville between 2010 and 2017 did not result in an arrest, according to data published by The Washington Post last week. A local community activist says these unsolved murders have eroded trust and hurt families in Louisville, and the data is prompting the Louisville Metro Police Department’s Major Crimes Division to review its operations.

The June 6 article reported on 50 major cities in the U.S., finding overall, 51 percent of homicides didn't result in an arrest.

Homicide arrest rates were slightly higher in Louisville, but when race is taken into account there are stark disparities.

Around 70 percent of the city’s 167 white homicide victims’ cases resulted in an arrest between 2010 and 2017. But when the victim was black — which was the case for 383 people — a suspect was arrested only 48 percent of the time.

Other cities were making markedly better progress, according to the data.

According to the Washington Post data, between 2007 and 2016 the Atlanta Police Department made an arrest in 62 percent of its overall homicides. The disparities between the outcomes of black and white homicides were slight, too: arrests were made in about 62 percent of homicide cases involving black victims and 65 percent of those involving white victims, though whites made up only six percent of the city's homicide victims.

Atlanta was also one of two cities cited in the article with numerous areas that had both high rates of homicides and high rates of arrest.

LMPD Major Todd Kessinger said his department has reviewed the Washington Post data and will reach out to Atlanta’s police department this week for tips and advice on solving homicides. He's in charge of the Major Crimes Division, and said the division might change its daily operations based on that advice.

"We don't try to reinvent the wheel. What departments around here, in the country, are having success? From the report, I thought Atlanta was doing very well," Kessinger said.
"We want resolution for the family and we also want to reduce violent crime in our city."

LMPD spokeswoman Jessie Halladay said Kessinger chose Atlanta because of its high clearance rate, urban setting and southern location.

Victims' Families Troubled By Low Homicide Arrests

Louisville community activist Christopher 2X said the data validates what local homicide victims' families have been going through.

“Through some level of bad interactions over the years with law enforcement, the trust factor has become what it is,” 2X said. “They don’t believe if they participate actively in being a witness in a homicide, they can get the protection or they can count on law enforcement in a trustful way to really take them seriously about the way they feel about their own safety.”

By not arresting these offenders, 2X said, they will be emboldened to continue committing crimes.

Kessinger said there’s no catch-all explanation for why there are more unsolved homicides for black victims than white victims in Louisville. He said some of these crimes, such as those perpetrated through drive-by and gang-related shootings, are harder to solve than domestic violence homicides.

He added that he doesn’t believe most black homicides are drive-by or gang-related, but that it’s harder to solve crimes in communities where witnesses fear retaliation.

“We do do a good job. It’s just certain types of murders are different – certain types of murders, people don’t want to get involved in,” Kessinger said. “You need the witness information. And if people don’t feel compelled to get involved with a murder, then it’s going to really limit our opportunity to solve it.”

2X said it will take everyone’s work to address violence in Louisville and he asked community members to trust the LMPD with information.  In return, 2X said LMPD should show community members they care about their cases.

“It’s going to take a coexistence of both parties to share that space for the common cause and goal,” 2X said. “If that’s not accomplished, then we’re still going to have a redundancy of open case homicides.”

Kessinger agreed Louisville police should show the community they’re sincere, and said the department will continue trust-building with communities to do that.

Kyeland Jackson is an Associate Producer for WFPL News.

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