LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Thursday night, Louisville Metro Police Interim Chief Jackie Gwinn-Villaroel faced a bevy of questions from Metro Council about how LMPD will keep the community safe over the next fiscal year.
The questions were anchored in a budget discussion but gave council members leeway to ask about virtually all aspects of LMPD.
One thing that became a central issue was how LMPD is addressing violent crimes and gangs.
"I was so glad when the mayor, and his administration, did admit to us having a gang issue," District 1 Councilmember Tammy Hawkins said when referring to Mayor Craig Greenberg and other agencies' shift in acknowledging Louisville's gang problem.
Hawkins asked Villaroel about using undercover officers to dismantle gangs.
"We have that, we have our plain clothes officers out there every day working the gang arena and they're doing an amazing job trying to dismantle these gangs," Villaroel said to Hawkins Thursday night. "But we also wanted to do something that's dealing with the community on a different level."
What the chief is referring to is more of a focus on reaching kids before they consider violence, and also giving kids alternate activities to stay off the streets.
WHAS11 found an increase of $95,000 for certain sports leagues and in-school outreach in the FY 2024 budget.
That includes $45,000 more for the G.R.E.A.T. program (Gang Resistance Education and Training), $25,000 more for the Police Activities League (PAL) and $25,000 more generally for the community outreach budget.
"One of the new initiatives is trying to get to the young impressionable minds, at a young age, and see whether or not we can be very impactful," Villaroel said.
GREAT is a national program that focuses on in-school, and summer programs, to help kids with problem-solving and eventually avoid violence and gangs.
LMPD has five officers assigned to the program, and if it got $45,000 more, 25 more officers would be trained in it.
PAL is a sports and activities league across the Metro where kids do various sports, cooking classes and even painting with police officers. It started in early 2022.
Rick Polin, the director of PAL, says when kids build these relationships with police officers, they're more willing to confide in them.
"We have had multiple examples of families of these kids reaching out to officers that they develop relationships with during the programming, and giving information about violent crime; whether they're a victim, a witness or whatever," he said.
Polin said if they got this additional funding, they would be able to add more classes, which he says often fill up faster than parents want.
Being on the council for just a few months, Hawkins said she was unfamiliar with the PAL league.
She says her focus right now is more cameras in high-crime areas and undercover detectives.
"We have to come together and come up with different solutions, to save our youth, and to save our city," Hawkins said.