Issue June 10, 2014

Illusory security tax

When I write “The Complete and Unabridged American History of Fear” chronicling disproportionate public-policy panic reactions to dreadful events, I shall devote a chapter to Louisville’s 3/22. Let the record reflect that on March 22, 2014, a rare eruption of juvenile crime traumatized our local democracy. Last Thursday, a narrow majority of Metro Council members defied a vast majority of taxpayers by voting (12 to 10) to expand our police force.

Mayor Greg Fischer called it “a great day for public safety in Louisville,” but there’s ample reason to doubt that the addition of as many as 24 cops will buy anything more than an illusion of extra security. The Rev. Kevin Cosby, senior pastor of St. Stephen Church and president of Simmons College of Kentucky, is a reliable source on Louisville’s urban youth culture. “Beefed-up security is not the answer,” he told The C-J in late March. “The answer is beefed-up investment in West Louisville.”

The Monday after the rampage, reporters asked Louisville Metro Police Chief Steve Conrad to explain LMPD’s slow response to the estimated 200 youths in Waterfront Park, where the violence began. “I don’t have the answer to that question,” the paper quoted him as saying. “Once we started having problems, officers did respond.” Nevertheless, police arrested only two youths amid the chaos. A witness told The C-J the swarm of teens was undeterred by the nearby presence of five squad cars.

The political response was predictable. And so is the mayhem, according to one victim. Adam Bader, manager of the looted Bader’s Market on First Street, told WDRB-TV it’s an annual horror that begins in Waterfront Park and migrates south on weekends “once the weather warms up.”

“Usually we catch it in time (and) we’ll lock the door,” he said. “But you have to shut your store down for 35 minutes to an hour, and we lose $300 to $400.”

More evidence of possible police inattention came in early April, when WHAS-TV obtained a memo written by LMPD Col. Yvette Gentry to the civic group Juvenile Detention Alternative Initiative. “In the memo, Gentry said over the past few months, flash mobs of violence from teens has been an issue that has left numerous citizens victimized and some with serious injuries,” the station reported. Now I’m not going to pile on the bandwagon of Barney-bashers. I gratefully respect the overwhelming majority of cops who don’t act like rogue constables. But suffice it to say that 3/22 wasn’t LMPD’s finest hour. Instead of rewarding this apparent lapse on taxpayers’ backs (with more enforcers), the logical solution is to fix the system. In this post violent-flash-mob age, it might make sense to surgically monitor social media and enhance our rapid-response capability. And I’m receptive to adding Metro Watch cameras, because a surveillance state is cheaper than a police state. If I wanted to live in — and pay for — a police state, I’d move to Audubon Park.

What really galls me is the failure of representative government, and the disingenuous spin on unambiguous opposition. Among almost 400 messages to Metro Council, only four conveyed support. But Councilwoman Vicki Aubrey Welch, D-13, who supports the tax, trivialized the opinionated as “really a small amount” of 750,000 citizens. Mayoral spokesman Chris Poynter told WFPL-FM that reaction was mixed. How conveniently misleading. The truth is, the dissent was deafening.

This issue isn’t rocket science. The collective condemnation reveals a solid understanding of the basics: The pending 2-percent LG&E franchise fee can’t be applied to incorporated areas of the city including affluent suburbs like St. Matthews and Prospect. Thus many view it as a regressive tax that disproportionately burdens poorer residents.

On issues that are complicated or incomprehensible to most voters, politicians can justify acting as trustee rather than representatives. This wasn’t even close. Council members who supported the measure simply turned a deaf ear to constituents who spoke loud and clear. Mayor Fischer spoke with a forked tongue. “Louisville is a safe city,” he said in a May 22 budget address. “Our residents tell us they feel safe, and they show us they feel safe by showing up for great events in record numbers.”

After the Council vote two weeks later, he issued this statement: “Citizens made clear their desire for enhanced public safety and additional investments in youth programs following the March 22 violence.”

This is what we get for wanting cops to do their job.