WKYT Investigates | What drives Lexington’s violence?

A 2019 report obtained by WKYT Investigates breaks down the factors behind many of the city’s shootings.
WKYT Investigates | What drives Lexington’s violence?
Updated: Aug. 29, 2022 at 4:00 PM EDT
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LEXINGTON, Ky. (WKYT) - Close to half of Lexington’s homicides in a five-year period were either confirmed or likely to involve members of gangs or other street “groups,” according to a detailed analysis of Lexington violence.

The National Network for Safe Communities (NNSC) worked with Lexington police officers and detectives to complete the problem analysis in 2019 as part of the city’s consideration of implementing group violence intervention (GVI) as a violence prevention strategy.

WKYT’s Garrett Wymer received the report after filing an open records request.

[WKYT Investigates | What is group violence intervention?]

The report analyzed data and intelligence that was gathered from a violent incident review of five years of homicides and three years of nonfatal shootings.

During the exercise, law enforcement identified 16 violent street groups, defined as “two or more people who engage in violence and/or criminal activity together,” active in Lexington. (They also identified five groups that were inactive at the time but had been relevant to violence during the time period of the incidents reviewed.)

A review of 117 homicides from January 2014 through December 2018 found that:

  • 34% were confirmed as group member-involved (meaning either the victim or suspect was a known group member or police determined to a moral certainty that it was group-involved)
  • an additional 11% were likely group member-involved
  • 19% were classified as unknown
  • 36% were known not to be group member-involved

A review of 221 nonfatal shootings from January 2016 through December 2018 found that:

  • 30% were confirmed as group member-involved
  • an additional 12% were likely group member-involved
  • 42% were classified as unknown
  • 16% were known not to be group member-involved

In all, law enforcement and the NNSC reviewed 338 violent incidents.

The review also explored the dynamics involved in those incidents and concluded: “In short, violence in Lexington, particularly group violence, is characterized by disputes over money, drugs, retaliation and ongoing feuds.”

[Read the full report here.]

The data, the NNSC stated, “collectively suggest that Lexington is experiencing, at minimum, moderate levels of group member-involved violence and that further group member-involved violence may be obscured by intelligence gaps.”

The NNSC stated that Lexington police knowledge at the time was largely limited to the city’s formally documented gangs, according to the department’s gang definition. Yet: “NNSC also found dynamics suggestive of some number of unnamed groups - not gangs, but informal, loosely knit, crews and cliques - active in Lexington and contributing to homicides and nonfatal shootings, often with connections to drug business and robberies.”

That means officials were likely prevented at the time from seeing a better picture of the group dynamics at play, the NNSC said, likely underestimating the proportion especially of nonfatal shootings that were group member-involved.

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The National Network for Safe Communities concluded that Lexington’s “levels of group member involvement indicate that a successful implementation of NNSC’s group violence intervention should result in significant reductions in overall shootings and homicides.”

It also noted, however, that “the magnitude of anticipated impact on serious violence may be smaller than other jurisdictions where groups are known to be involved in violence at higher rates.”

In its final report, the NNSC provided six recommendations to Lexington leaders:

  1. Compare NNSC findings with current Lexington Police Department intelligence.
  2. Routinize group audits.
  3. Begin planning and conducting regular shooting reviews to monitor violence and track group activity.
  4. Enhance existing intelligence gathering processes with social network analysis.
  5. Engage other partners.
  6. Take operational next steps to launch the group violence intervention (GVI) strategy.

The city has adopted five of the six recommendations, Mayor Gorton has said previously, with the one exception being the implementation of GVI.

In their ongoing evaluation of those engaged in violence in Lexington, investigators consistently identify 20-25 “larger actively engaged ‘groups’ or smaller subsets,” a police spokesperson told WKYT’s Garrett Wymer this month in a written response to questions provided by email.

Police say they regularly perform reviews to identify and evaluate the activity of groups, including through single incident reviews, weekly gun-related crimes reviews, monthly partner collaborations, community violent partner initiative-related reviews and other reviews as needed.

(You can read their full responses - and the full report - below.)

The department’s reviews include, internally, responding officers, detectives and specialized personnel (including Personal Crimes Unit, Special Investigations Section, Special Victims, Homicide, Patrol, Special Operations, Neighborhood Resource Officer and other units). Externally, they include the county and commonwealth attorneys, federal partners (including FBI, ATF, DEA, U.S. Marshals, etc.), probation and parole, and other local and state law enforcement agencies. They also work with programs and partnerships like ONE Lexington, Handle with Care, Safety Net, New Vista, Paramedicine, NAMI, Crime Stoppers and others.

WKYT Investigates: According to the report, during the exercise in 2019 for the report, 21 violent street groups were identified, 16 of which were active at the time. How many violent street groups were identified in LPD’s latest group audit, and when was this done? Has LPD been able to successfully identify smaller subsets of larger groups, as NNSC encouraged investigators to do?

Lexington Police Department: The Lexington Police Department actively evaluates “groups” that present themselves in Lexington and monitors the activities of these existing groups that are engaged in violence. The active assessment of “groups” is fluid, but 20-25 larger actively engaged “groups” or smaller subsets are consistently identified.

Specialized investigators work with internal personnel and law enforcement partners to identify, monitor, and prosecute violent groups within the limits of the law.

WKYT: How often does LPD perform group audits recommended by NNSC?

LPD: The Lexington Police Department conducts regular reviews to identify and evaluate the activity of “groups” related to violent crimes. This process involves routine intelligence-led updates between local, state, and federal law enforcement partners to develop strategies to impact violent crimes.

This collaboration is consistent with recommendations provided by NNSC. It occurs regularly through several reviews, including, but not limited to: single incident reviews, weekly gun-related crimes reviews, monthly partner collaborations, community violent partner initiative-related reviews, and other reviews as determined.

WKYT: How often does LPD conduct violent incident reviews recommended by NNSC to assess group and gang dynamics and their impact on violence?

LPD: Violent incident reviews are considered a strategic investigative process. The review process is fluid and one that the department actively engages in as we assess strategies to impact violent crime within our community.

The Lexington Police Department conducts different types of violent incident reviews. One type of investigative process occurs due to an incident(s), which seeks to leverage all of our department’s and partners’ resources to solve a violent crime. Another review is a weekly meeting conducted by investigators to evaluate intelligence related to violent firearms-related crimes. Information collected from the National Integrated Ballistic Information Network (NIBIN) database and other intelligence is reviewed for these processes.

We also have a review that is an expanded partnership meeting conducted monthly, involving local, state, regional and federal law enforcement, prosecutors, and other identified critical partners. The department also conducts additional regular partnership/program meetings related to impacting violent crimes.

WKYT: In what ways has LPD determined how social network analysis can enhance current intelligence gathering processes, or in what ways has LPD deployed SNA to do so, as recommended by NNSC?

LPD: The Lexington Police Department considers social networks as part of the review of any group-related crimes. Reviewing social networks is an active and ongoing process of intelligence-led analysis that has continued to be a part of LPD investigative reviews, even before 2019. While we cannot provide specific investigative techniques, analyzing and evaluating available information through internal and external resources regarding the connection of an offender’s network and connection with violence or any crime is part of our investigative team’s process.

WKYT: Who is/what departments are involved in the group audits and incident reviews conducted by LPD? (For example, NNSC recommends expanding frontline law enforcement engagement to include participants from narcotics, homicide, major crimes, etc. or even other law enforcement partners and agencies like probation and parole, prosecution, task forces, etc.)

LPD: The Lexington Police Department has continued to develop partnerships to enhance our incident reviews and strategies for impacting violent crime. Our enhanced partnership engagement in incident reviews is consistent with the recommendation provided by NNSC.

  • Internally we engage responding officers, detectives, and specialized personnel, including but not limited to Personal Crimes Unit, Special Investigations Section, Special Victims, Homicide, Patrol, Special Operations, Neighborhood Resource Officer, and other units.
  • Externally, the Lexington Police Department partners with the County and Commonwealth Attorney, federal partners (FBI, ATF, DEA, US Marshals, etc.), probation and parole, other law enforcement agencies (local and state), and any other partners that assist with our investigations and strategies to impact violent crime. Lexington Police Department maintains good working relationships with local, state, and federal partners. Those partnerships are essential to the incident reviews and providing support with resources outside our limitations.
  • Lexington Police Department also collaborates with programs and partnerships whose efforts are strategic to impacting violence in our community and include: ONE Lexington, Handle with Care, Safety Net, New Vista, Paramedicine, NAMI, Crime Stoppers, etc.