OPINION: Finding a way to combat and curb violence in Louisville

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If it feels like every night when you turn on the news you’re seeing reports of a new shooting, your intuition would be right—Louisville averaged nearly two non-fatal shootings a day in the first six months of 2021, 335 in total. Even more troubling, Louisville averaged over 16 homicides per 100,000 residents over the same time period. That is a murder rate 38% higher than Chicago’s. This all comes as LMPD is more than 240 officers short.

 

On June 13, our city reached a grim milestone; our 90th homicide for the year. This is now the fifth time in the last six years in which Louisville has had more than 90 homicides per year, but prior to 2016, to find a year in which Louisville had 90 homicides, you would have to go all the way back to 1979. In fact, between 1980 and 2015 Louisville averaged 54 homicides a year. From 2015-2020 Louisville has averaged 107 homicides per year, nearly double the average of the previous 25 years.

These homicides aren’t just numbers. They are children like 3-year-old Trinity Randolph, who was gunned down while playing in her “Frozen” dollhouse. They are fathers like Tyrese Garvin, who was murdered while walking home after holding his newborn twins for the first time. And they are brothers and sons like nineteen-year-old Christian Gwynn and seven-year-old Dequante Hobbs, Jr.

 

Right now it seems things are only getting worse, as Louisville is caught in a cycle of shootings followed by retaliatory gunplay. However, in the midst of all the bad news, there is a glimmer of hope.

 

Louisville Metro Council recently took significant measures that could help save lives and stop the out-of-control bloodshed. They passed a budget with notable measures including allocating $620,000 to expand the ShotSpotter gunshot detection system, $500,000 to help with the implementation of Group Violence Intervention (GVI), and millions that can be used to increase officer pay in the hopes of improving recruitment and retention. They also admirably resisted calls from radicals to defund LMPD.

 

Reducing violence will require everyone rowing in the same direction, though. A successful approach will mean that law enforcement at the local, state, and federal level are working hand in hand with social service providers.

 

The cornerstone of this effort is GVI.

 

GVI recognizes that most urban violence is the result of interpersonal disputes between a small number of highly active individuals, largely within the context of gangs or street groups. According to the National Network for Safe Communities, these group members typically make up around half a percent of a city’s population but are involved in as much as 70% of its homicide and gun violence.

 

GVI strategies partner with community members and survivors with moral authority over group members to relay messages against violence. Law enforcement puts groups on prior notice about the consequences of further group-involved violence. Finally, support and outreach providers make a genuine offer of help for those who want it.

 

By leveraging both enforcement and social service resources on the most active shooters and the groups they belong to, GVI strategies have significantly reduced violence across the country.

 

The approach was pioneered in Boston, MA, where it led to a 63% reduction in youth homicide. It has led to successes in other cities around the country—a 42% reduction in gun homicide in Stockton, CA, a 32% decrease in group member-involved homicides in New Orleans, LA, and a 41% reduction in group member-involved homicides just up the river in Cincinnati.

 

This is our path forward. If we can put aside previous interagency differences and tear down the walls that have separated past anti-violence efforts, we can calm the streets. Doing so won’t be easy, but it is straightforward.

 

By faithfully adhering to the principles and practices of GVI, Louisville can move its way out of the headlines for murders and into the headlines for progress.

 

JOSHUA H. CRAWFORD is interim executive director of the Pegasus Institute.

PERSPECTIVE writers for this forum do not always express the opinions of the Kentucky Baptist Convention.

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