Photo by Tony Pacheco

A public safety subgroup of the Steering Committee for Action on Louisville’s Agenda (SCALA) focused on addressing the city’s recent rise in homicides includes three members of the administration of Mayor Greg Fischer and a former deputy chief of the Louisville Metro Police Department, though LMPD says that none of its current employees have been asked to participate with the group in any way.

Theresa Reno-Weber — the CEO of Metro United Way and the chair of SCALA’s public safety subcommittee — told Insider Louisville over email that this committee is currently compiling an informal report related to violent crime prevention that will be shared with the full SCALA group at its next meeting.

Though SCALA leadership previously indicated that this meeting would occur Wednesday, Feb. 14 — and be closed to the public — she added that this meeting has now been rescheduled for a later unset date.

An Insider report last month first publicly revealed the existence of SCALA, a 69-member group comprised mostly of CEOs of local businesses, but also leaders of nonprofits and religious organizations. SCALA co-founder David Jones Sr. described the group as a vehicle for these leaders to join together and tackle some of the city’s greatest challenges, with subcommittees being formed to address public safety, air service and Jefferson County Public Schools.

This decision to focus on public safety stems from the alarming increase in murders over the past few years, as Jefferson County’s record of 122 homicides set in 2016 was more than double the number from two years earlier. The criminal homicides slightly decreased to 116 in 2017, which still ranks second in the county’s history.

Theresa Reno-Weber, president and CEO of Metro United Way | Photo courtesy Metro United Way’s website

SCALA faced criticism for including advocates of private and religious education as members but not any JCPS officials — such as then-acting JCPS Superintendent Marty Pollio — while its education subcommittee weighed the shortcomings of its educational outcomes and the potential of a state intervention in the district.

As for the work of SCALA’s public safety subcommittee, a LMPD spokesman told Insider on Friday that neither Chief Steve Conrad nor any LMPD employee had been asked to participate in this group in any way, including giving presentations or being interviewed for a report on crime.

However, Reno-Weber explained that in her capacity as chair of the public safety subcommittee, she has been “very vocal about including more voices in the group that represent the community and the good work that is happening on the ground,” adding that she has found SCALA to be open to learning about the work of nonprofits, community groups and the government to address public safety from many angles.

Reno-Weber said that her public safety group has been “joined and informed by” the head of three Metro Government departments and a recently departed director. These subcommittee members, who she says are not full members of SCALA, include:

  • Rashaad Abdur-Rahman, director of the mayor’s Office of Safe & Healthy Neighborhoods
  • Daro Mott, chief of the mayor’s Office of Performance Improvement and the city’s SafetyStat crime analytics program
  • Pastor Vincent James, the mayor’s chief of community building, as well as a Metro United Way Community Impact Cabinet Member and pastor of Elim Baptist Church in Parkland
  • Yvette Gentry, former Deputy Chief of Police and chief of community building, who now leads Metro United Way’s Black Male Achievement Work project.

“Together, we are working to understand current homicide data and community prevention initiatives, as well as review research on effective, evidence-based initiatives working in other communities that we should consider supporting locally,” wrote Reno-Weber in an email exchange with Insider.

Reno-Weber — who was the mayor’s chief of performance & technology until leaving to run Metro United Way early last year — added that her subcommittee has “been invited to the city’s SafetyStat meetings, which include LMPD, and reviewed the public crime data available.”

While this group has “yet to complete an informal report,” she wrote that they “have been pulling together information to share with the full SCALA group the next time we meet.”

While the initial focus of the group is on Louisville’s increase in homicides, Reno-Weber said they had also discussed the need to understand what can be done to address the opioid crisis that has simultaneously plagued the city.

Metro Council President David James, a former LMPD detective who has been a top critic of Chief Conrad’s leadership in recent years, told Insider that he had not yet been asked to participate by SCALA or its public safety subcommittee, though he would be more than happy to.

“Knowing the people on that group, I’m sure they will be very process and data driven about the work they will do,” said James. “I’m always interested to hear what folks have to say about public safety.”

Mayor Fischer has defended SCALA from those who have questioned its motives and methods, saying it is “not a secret group of any kind” and that media were making too much out of the group.

The presence of the aforementioned members of the subcommittee from the Fischer administration appears to be unique for SCALA, as Jones Sr. previously told Insider that only those who are non-interim leaders of businesses, nonprofits and religious groups are eligible to be members of the larger group. Fischer was included as a member because he is the head of the city’s government.

Reno-Weber explained that Abdur-Rahman, Mott, James and Gentry are only members of the subcommittee but “not yet the full group,” though adding that the subcommittee has not engaged with the full group yet and “some of these individuals may be added to the full group in the future.”

Asked if there was a policy change to open up membership to SCALA, she replied that there was not, though “we have members of that committee that I would argue are at a CEO-level e.g., Chief of Community Building. As the group has not formally discussed this, I can’t say definitively one way or another that we will make this change.”

Insider sent an email to Jones Sr. asking if SCALA has changed or is considering changing its membership eligibility rules, or if directors of city departments are currently eligible, which was not replied to.

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Joe Sonka
Joe Sonka is a staff writer at Insider Louisville focusing on government, politics, education and public safety. He is a former news editor and staff writer at LEO Weekly and has also freelanced for The Nation and ThinkProgress. He has won first place awards from the Louisville Metro chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists in the categories of Health Reporting, Enterprise Reporting, Government/Politics, Minority/Women’s Affairs Reporting, Continuing Coverage and Best Blog. Email him at [email protected]