Lexington Mayor Linda Gorton said the city is working to address an uptick in crime and murders and asked the community for its input and help at a town hall forum on crime Wednesday night.
“Everyone is facing this issue,” Gorton said. Nearly every major city across the country, including Louisville, has seen a spike in shootings and murders, she said at the public forum at the Pam Miller Downtown Arts Center. More than 60 people attended the forum.
Since January, there have been 23 homicides and 70 non-fatal shootings.
The reasons are complex.
“The pandemic, the availability of guns, drugs and social media. People will say and do things on social media that they won’t say to your face,” Gorton said. “Those have all been contributors to what is going on in our town.”
Lexington Police Chief Lawrence Weathers agreed.
“There is not going to be one answer,” Weathers said. To curb crime, it takes “prevention, intervention, enforcement and re-entry. We got to be involved at all levels; that’s why we partner at all levels.”
Wednesday’s forum was one of several upcoming town hall meetings focusing on crime.
Could more job training for teens help?
But many members of the community told Gorton, Weathers and Devine Carama, the director of One Lexington,the city’s violence prevention program, that more needs to be done to find employment for teens and young adults.
Stephen Overstreet said many kids get involved with violence because they don’t have money or a job.
Overstreet was a graduate of Micro-City Government, as were several people who attended Wednesday’s public forum. That program gave him job training skills. He learned how to interview and got a job at 14, he said.
“We need to put money in the pockets of these kids,” Overstreet said.
Micro-City Government was started in 1969 as a youth job training program. It closed after its former executive director Ron Berry was convicted in 2000 of sexually abusing some of the minors who participated in the program. The city has a summer youth job training program that had recently expanded to more than 300 participants. However, that program was mothballed during the pandemic.
When Carama asks teens and young adults involved in violent crime what it would take for them to stop — they mention jobs and money, Carama said, agreeing with Overstreet.
Weathers, who grew up in Lexington, also agreed. He was a Micro-City participant and got a job through that program.
Others questioned why the police didn’t do more to partner with social service and mental health professionals to address calls for service involving people in a mental health crisis or in need of social services, not law enforcement.
In November 2020, the police announced a new partnership with New Vista, the community mental health center. Police can call New Vista staff when they are sent to a home where a mental health professional or social worker is needed.
Shambra Mulder, who works in mental health, questioned why the police didn’t send the social worker to the call first.
“More police doesn’t make us more safe,” Mulder said. Having a police officer respond to a crisis can “raise the threat level.”
Lexington police are also facing a shortage of police officers. There are 65 vacancies in the department. There is currently a recruit class that will finish in November with 35 recruits.
Gorton said this year’s budget includes money for a second recruit class to help fill those vacancies. The budget also includes money for six neighborhood resource officers who are assigned to neighborhoods.