As COVID-19 Lockdowns Persist, So Does Deadly Violence
As we approach the end of the second month of the Great Pause, a clearer picture has emerged of violent crime during this period. Unfortunately, the situation for many in Louisville and across the Commonwealth is rather grim.
Louisville Metro Police Department (LMPD) Chief Steve Conrad recently testified before the Louisville Metro Council about the state of violent crime in Louisville during the first four months of 2020.
His testimony was far from encouraging.
Chief Conrad testified that as of April 29, Louisville had 111 shootings and 36 criminal homicides. At the same point last year, the city had seen only 61 shootings and 22 criminal homicides – meaning that homicides are up 63% and shootings are up 82% over last year. The Chief also testified that domestic violence calls were down 4% since the start of the year.
All of this warrants a closer look.
Shootings and Homicides:
While shootings and homicides were considerably higher during the first four months of the year, the jump during the COVID-19 related shut down is even more severe. A recent Wave 3 News investigation by Natalia Martinez found that shootings in Louisville were up 150% between March 6, when Governor Beshear first declared a state of emergency, and April 12.
More disturbingly, according to peace and justice advocate Christopher 2X, since that date 25 teenagers have been hit by gunfire, and 8 of these shootings have been fatal.
With teenagers out of school because of COVID-19 and law enforcement forced to balance public safety with officer safety during a pandemic, gangs and street groups will try to take advantage of an environment “ripe for violence” as Chief Conrad noted.
From the very first discussions of stay-home orders and as business closures emerged, advocates warned that domestic violence would likely increase.
Since Governor Beshear first declared a state of emergency related to COVID-19, three Kentucky women have lost their lives to domestic violence. On March 13, a Greenup County woman was shot to death in West Virginia by a man she had several previous domestic violence orders filed against. On April 11, a Lawrence County man was arrested and charged with 1st degree domestic violence. He was later charged with murder after his wife died from her injuries. Just a few days later in Louisville, a man murdered his wife and then killed himself.
There could have been a fourth homicide, after a man with an active domestic violence warrant entered the home of a Lexington woman he had been dating and began shooting. Thankfully, another person in the home returned fire and fatally hit the intruder.
A look at the LMPD domestic violence incidents over the first few month of the year does show that total DV calls are down about 4%. That decline however, is largely because of lower than usual numbers in January and February. In March, however, the department saw a 24% increase in unique incidents of domestic violence over February, jumping from 345 to 429 unique incidents. Lexington saw an even bigger jump from February to March of 30%.
Unique incidents in Louisville were also up 3% in March 2020 compared to March 2019 .
These numbers, while certainly an indication of the dire situation some domestic violence victims are in, do not capture the full story. Some victims have chosen not to call 911 because they believed that LMPD was not responding to domestic violence calls. This, of course, was not the case, and on April 14, the Commander of the Special Victims Unit released a video clarifying that LMPD’s revised COVID-19 arrest policy did not include changes to domestic violence calls.
This perception is likely still held by some victims, so we may never know how many domestic violence victims chose not to call for help out of fear that help would not come.
The COVID-19 pandemic is a unique situation – and a temporary one – but while we must vigilant to protect officer safety, we must also ensure that violent offenders are not given an opportunity to take advantage of the situation. Law enforcement agencies at the local, state, and federal level ought to continue to work together to arrest, prosecute, and incarcerate those who would prey on our most vulnerable residents in a time of increased vulnerability.