EDITOR’S NOTE: An earlier version of this story indicated that LMPD did not initially respond when we asked them about Councilman Piagentini’s remarks on Chief Conrad. In fact, an LMPD spokesperson responded almost immediately with a detailed statement, even though our request was made after business hours. WAVE 3 News regrets any indication to the contrary.
LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - A man considered armed and dangerous by LMPD was arrested for allegedly strangling and raping a woman.
The WAVE 3 News Troubleshooters have now exposed an entirely different part to that story.
Turns out the suspect was getting paid with taxpayer dollars to actually stop violence.
Dwight Taylor, 35, was one of the city’s so-called “Interrupters,” WAVE 3 News confirmed. Interrupters are part of the Office of Safe and Healthy Neighborhoods, and the program operates with a $1.7 million budget.
That is the same program Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer spoke about at a news conference about last week, hoping to save the program from budget cuts.
But officers told WAVE 3 News that this latest arrest proves the program should be axed.
“There’s a significant question about what it is this group exactly does, and I don’t think there’s any faith (among) the rank-and-file officers that they are effective,” Councilman Anthony Piagentini told WAVE 3 News.
The Interrupters are men and women with criminal records. They are part of a 40-person staff hired through the city via contracts to prevent -- or interrupt -- crime.
Interrupters are part of the Cure Violence Program. They don’t answer to or even communicate with LMPD. In fact, officers said they don’t even know who they are, except for Dwight Taylor.
Taylor was arrested Friday after he was tracked down at one of the Cure Violence sites after a woman said he punched her, strangled her, then raped her. Police said they took note of the markings on her face and neck after the alleged assault.
As an Interrupter, Taylor earned a $33,000 taxpayer-funded annual salary.
The head of the program, Rashaad Abdur-Rahman, told WAVE 3 News that the allegations are very serious, and that they’ve since fired Taylor.
He said Taylor was contracted through the YMCA of Greater Louisville back in September. Rahman said representatives of the Cure Violence program are working with the YMCA about the incident. He said they are also still pushing ahead with the Cure Violence program.
“This kind of approach is absolutely the future of what public safety needs to look like,” Rahman said.
Rahman said homicides are down, in part, because of the Interrupters. He said their criminal backgrounds are necessary in order for them to relate to others at risk of committing crimes.
“They feel like they have a debt to their community, they have a debt to their neighborhood, they want to repay that,” Rahman said. “They want to be a positive force.”
Piagentini said the program hasn’t proven its worth, and questioned the Interrupters’ accountability. In fact, he said, shootings are up.
“It sounds very interesting, it sounds revolutionary,” Piagentini said. “I’m not interested in faith. I’m interested in results.”
Piagentini also said there is a disconnect between the rank and file and LMPD’s administration when it comes to the program and its effectiveness. He specifically named LMPD Chief Steve Conrad, who has shown support for Fischer’s tax increase proposal.
The news of Taylor’s arrest came at a time when LMPD is facing massive cuts, including to personnel. The Cure Violence program has hired about 40 people, including Interrupters, that almost double the amount of officers the city hired in its most recent graduating class.
“He actually came and advocated for the Office of Safe and Healthy Neighborhoods just as much or more than he advocated for the police department, which I found just strange,” Piagentini said.
Rahman explained the city works with community partners such as the YMCA, University Hospital and No More Red Dots.
The staff at University Hospital is comprised of case managers, focused on connecting victims of street violence to resources so they do not end up becoming victims again. Rahman said they have had a lot of success with that goal.
Rahman said they look for people who have been justice involved, or incarcerated, who are able to make connections with at-risk individuals. He said it is very important for there to be a separation between the Interrupters and LMPD, to protect those relationships.
WAVE 3 News asked Rahman how he measures the program’s success if it’s based on homicides, for example, that do not happen. He said one concrete way by which Interrupters are measured, is through the number of people they refer to resources such as job placement.
Piagentini said he wants more proof if the program is to continue.
The city of Chicago piloted an Interrupters program. WAVE 3 News reached out to the Chicago Police Department, which said it no longer works with Interrupters, especially after one of their leaders was indicted as part of a federal drug and gang probe.
The YMCA of Greater Louisville also provided the following statement:
“An employee of the YMCA of Greater Louisville who served briefly as a staff member for the Cure Violence program was arrested and is facing several charges,” YMCA Marketing and Communications Director Jennifer Flower wrote. “The YMCA takes these allegations seriously and the employee has been terminated. As always, the safety of our members and staff is our No. 1 priority. We cannot provide additional employment information at this time. We remain proud of our collaboration with the City of Louisville for the Cure Violence program, which has contributed to reduced gun violence in Louisville.”
LMPD Special Advisor Jessie Halladay told WAVE 3 News on Monday that despite the arrest, Conrad is not wavering from his support for the Office of Safe and Healthy Neighborhoods or Cure Violence. She added that Conrad believes it is a community-approach model designed to prevent violence as a public health problem. Halladay also said they recognize there are risks in hiring people with criminal records, but that one person does not represent the rest. She said they are not involved in the hiring process for Interrupters.