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Louisville mayor and Metro Council discuss public safety

Louisville Metro Council chambers.
Louisville Metro Council chambers.

Mayor Greg Fischer met with Louisville Metro Council members on Thursday to discuss public safety. He covered city initiatives to tackle the issue and challenges, including the city’s climbing homicide rate. Louisville has recorded more than 150 murders so far this year, about 30 more than this point in 2020.

District 4 Council Member Jecorey Arthur, a Democrat, said social programs are key to reducing the city’s crime rate. 

“This council defunded the Office for Safe and Healthy Neighborhoods,” Arthur said. “So as we talk about what's not working, it's not working because you decided to take the money away from it.”

Some council members disagreed, saying they slashed the department’s funding in 2019  — during a budget process that produced large, pension-driven cuts across Metro departments and agencies —  because it wasn’t producing the outcomes expected of it. Others pointed to different causes of the city’s safety issues, including what they said are inadequate corrections staff and police wages. 

Pay raises could come from federal relief funds, some said, while others suggested signing bonuses as incentives to attract new police officers. But Fischer stressed the importance of creating a sustainable plan instead of leaning on short-term solutions.

“The big issue is: Where is the money going to be coming from? If it’s just one-time money, what we’re doing is just paying Peter right now to rob Paul down the road,” Fischer said. 

Democratic Council Member Brent Ackerson, of District 26, proposed imposing a tax increase as a reliable source for the wage hikes. 

“If we can modify these contracts, guarantee the spending, put ourselves $45 million in the hole. People like myself would be willing to jump on that tax increase,” Ackerson said. “If we take the steps, open the contracts, hire premium workers, pay our great workers what they're entitled to...So we keep them here.”

Council Member Anthony Piagentini of District 19, a Republican, touched on issues with the Louisville Metro Police Department’s budgeting practices.

“The last several years, LMPD has not spent all of their entire budget. So I actually don't think there's a money problem. I think there's an execution problem,” Piagentini said. 

The mayor and council members also  discussed LMPD’s low rate of solving homicide cases. As of this month, Louisville police have solved about 36% of the murders that occurred this year. 

“We hear a lot about the low morale of police. And we also try to conflate that to compare it to the low homicide clearance rate,” Arthur said. “If we have citizens that are willing to talk with the police about what's happening in their community, what's the disconnect? Why are they not following up?”

District 1 Council Member Jessica Green, a Democrat, offered an alternative viewpoint, saying  low crime reporting stems from a lack of community trust in police, and little support for victims.

“When you have to go back to the same place, and you're scared, and you're terrified, and people are expecting you to speak up, and the city is not offering any support, that's a problem,” Green said. 

Earlier this week, Fischer announced a pilot program that aims to redirect some 911 calls to mental and behavioral health responders instead of police. 

Public safety measures pass

Council members unanimously passed an ordinance that aims to increase the number of officers who enforce regulations at alcohol-serving bars and restaurants.

Democratic Council Member Cassie Chambers Armstrong, of District 8, sponsored the ordinance, which  will fund the hiring of three more officers with the Department of Alcohol and Beverage Control for expanded patrols. 

“Right now, there are some weekends where there is no one in our city who is assigned to be ensuring that these businesses are complying with the laws that have been put in place to keep the public safe,” Chambers Armstrong said. 

The measure will fund the effort with $380,000 in surplus funds for the city’s Department of Codes and Regulations. Funding will also go toward training for business owners. 

Council members also passed an ordinance that would add being unsheltered to a list of classes protected against hate crimes. While it wouldn’t prescribe criminal penalties, the measure would offer victims recourse in civil court. 

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