Louisville, like many other American cities, has seen a sharp rise in homicides; 70 were reported a year ago, a 30 percent increase over 2003, and 50 have been counted so far this year, the New York Times reports. In two black neighborhoods, the West End and Newburg, where the crime problem is most acute, residents have accused the Police Department of being unresponsive or hostile. About 33 percent of Louisville’s 256,000 residents are black, as are about 14 percent of the city’s nearly 1,150 police officers.
White officers have fatally shot more than a half-dozen young black men in five years. More than 20 killings in the West End and Newburg remain unsolved. Blacks contend that some officers harass them and that many refuse to get out of their cars and walk beats in their neighborhoods. Three months ago, Robert White, the city’s first African-American police chief, collected complaints from the black community, from his own officers and from the pulpits of many black churches in the city. He ordered an assault on the most hardened criminals in Louisville and created the Violent Offenders Task Force, a group of nearly two dozen city officers and federal marshals. The focal points were the two black neighborhoods. As task force members arrived, they were met with approval and suspicion. White said the new efforts were paying off. The task force has arrested 98 people since June on charges including attempted murder, rape, and armed robbery. Since late August, the city has not had a homicide.