Police to mount large-scale war on gangs
Louisville's police force is in the midst of mounting its largest-ever war on gangs with a task force that will combine local and federal law enforcement and prosecutors.
Last week, officials with the FBI, U.S. Attorney's Office and U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration confirmed their agencies would join the effort. LMPD spokesman Dwight Mitchell told the Courier-Journal on Friday he couldn't say who would participate, but he sent an email to several reporters Monday night confirming further commitments from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the U.S. Marshals Service and the Commonwealth Attorney's Office.
"The Louisville Metro INTEL (LMINTEL) Task Force is an intelligence-led task force which identifies primary, violent offenders and leverages all available resources to locate, apprehend and prosecute these offenders," adding the department "will likely add additional partners as we move forward," Mitchell said in his news release.
He said to expect updates soon.
Louisville Metro Police, which downplayed the role of gangs as last year's homicide total spiked, haven't released many details but have obtained Metro Council money for the initiative targeting gangs and drugs. The police force hasn't led a dedicated multi-agency gang task force in its 14-year history.
But there are clear indicators of a gang problem — from the non-fatal shootings of two teens in front of dozens of men, women, children and police on Broadway during the annual Pegasus Parade last May to a shootout between gang rivals in the middle of a Smoketown street that killed a 14-year-old boy in August. For the year, there were 117 homicides within LMPD's jurisdiction and an additional six throughout Jefferson County, the most lethal year here since at least 1960. Another sign is the urgency to harness a wide swath of resources.
David Habich, chief counsel for the FBI's Louisville Division confirmed Thursday that "the FBI is participating with LMPD in the multi-agency gang task force."
"Combating the gang and violence problem in Louisville is everyone's responsibility," Habich said in an email to the Courier-Journal. "We work closely with LMPD on a daily basis and are committed to joining them in the fight."
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration also is on board, Thomas Gorman, assistant special agent-in-charge of Kentucky confirmed Friday.
Stephanie Collins, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in the Western District of Kentucky, said a U.S. prosecutor will provide the task force with legal guidance on which cases can be charged federally, which could lead to longer stints in federal prison, where parole is not an option.
Habich said, "We hope to prosecute some of these offenders at the federal level to make a significant impact."
State Police Commissioner Rick Sanders said his investigators will participate with Louisville's task force in their role with the FBI's Safe Streets task force.
"Obviously, they're going to focus on guns, gangs, violence and drugs," Sanders said. "We're going to help any way we can."
Louisville Metro Council members approved $135,000 for the task force and its office space, which will be shared with the 9th Mobile Division, which sends investigators across the city targeting crime hot spots. The council also approved dedicating a crime analyst to the new task force.
"Bringing all these resources together is a good start," Gorman said. "We're hopeful this will have an impact."
During police Chief Steve Conrad's year-end update to the council's public safety committee in December, he estimated there are 20 to 30 active gangs but said a "relatively small percentage" of shootings have been confirmed as gang-motivated. He also noted that 46 percent of last year's homicides hadn't been solved.
Habich said law enforcement will need help to curb the city's spike in violent crime. "It's going to take community engagement at every level, including by our citizens."
Reporter Beth Warren can be reached at 502-582-7164 or email@example.com.