Aggressive policing vs. aggressive criminals: Who’s winning?

Updated: Jun. 11, 2019 at 9:58 PM EDT
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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - When it comes to crime, no corner in Louisville stood out like Fourth Street and Winkler Avenue.

In 2017, I sat in a car right there, recording drug dealing and using and overdosing in broad daylight. Business was always brisk, a constant flow of cash and drugs at all hours of the day.

That year, I was watching because the Louisville Metro Police Department’s crime tracker showed 35 crimes reported there over the previous six months -- assault, theft, robbery, burglary, handguns, and lots of drug charges.

Are businesses enabling it? We went undercover recently and found the store on the corner, whose parking lot hosted most of the drug dealing, was selling packaged crack smoking kits with the pipe and filter.

So what is going on at Fourth and Winkler?

This woman was searched by a LMPD officer as she waited for the bus. (Source: WAVE 3 News)
This woman was searched by a LMPD officer as she waited for the bus. (Source: WAVE 3 News)

Without telling anyone, I parked there again, in the same spot, at the same intersection, and with the same camera. I spent a couple of weeks recording to see if anything had changed. And there was one big change. LMPD was aggressively policing the corner, pulling up and going through the pockets of people standing there, questioning a woman just waiting at the bus stop, disbanding groups that gathered anywhere around the intersection, and getting out and checking vehicles that looked suspicious to them.

It comes at the same time this city is having a heated debate about aggressive policing versus individual rights in crime hot spots.

“I think we’re in a period of time in our community, unfortunately, where we need our police officers doing more, not less,” Metro Councilman Mark Fox (D-District 13) said at a recent hearing with LMPD Chief Steve Conrad.

“I think there may be people who feel you didn’t go far enough or people who felt like you went too far,” Metro Councilwoman Jessica Green (D-District 1) said at the hearing.

What kind of effect has this kind of policing had at Fourth and Winkler? This time, LMPD’s crime tracker showed 15 crimes committed there over the past six months. That’s fewer than half of the 35 crimes there over the same six months in 2017.

“When you talk about an area like Fourth and Winkler, that is the nexus of the police department strategy of people, places, narcotics,” LMPD Fourth Division Maj. Josh Judah said. “We’re not indiscriminately choosing people and violating their constitutional rights.”

WAVE 3 News asked the head of the Fourth Division about this kind of preemptive, search-the-pockets, aggressive policing.

“What the officers are doing is they’re forcing their efforts in an area where we know we have problems,” Judah said. “The officers who are out there every day know the people who are causing the problems, and when they see bad behavior, laws being broken, or activity that through their training and experience is indicative of criminal activity, they’re taking action.”

In the brief respites when police weren’t pouncing, I recorded the party firing back up, including vodka, beer, hand-to-hand transactions on foot or through car windows, profits processing and prostitution.

The biggest question was whether the staggering customers of all this activity were going to make it.

Some customers who frequent the corner were in very bad shape. (Source: WAVE 3 News)
Some customers who frequent the corner were in very bad shape. (Source: WAVE 3 News)

“The work is never going to be done,” Judah said. “There’s always going to be that challenge. We know that policing matters.”

It’s the ultimate challenge. How heavily and aggressively can you pour police officers into one place where there is a seemingly endless supply of suppliers and customers in zombie-like scenes where arms aren’t in sleeves, but inside shirts, which we’re told is done to keep a hand on a gun in dangerous situations.

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