In Lexington, a decline in gun violence raises questions about police staffing

By Paul Oliva, The Lexington Times

LEXINGTON, Ky. — In a city grappling with the intricacies of public safety and the role of law enforcement, a curious data point has emerged: Despite a police force that is “over 20% understaffed,” according to a September 17 Facebook post by Fraternal Order of Police Bluegrass Lodge 4 President Jeremy Russell, the incidence of gun violence has seen a notable decline this year. This raises an intriguing question: In an era of burgeoning technology, could Lexington reconsider the size of its authorized police force?

A Tale Told by the Numbers

Statistics for 2023, collected through September 30 by the Gun Violence Archive, tell a story of diminishing gun violence in Lexington compared to the same period in 2022. Incidents have dropped by 38.2%, fatalities by 22.6%, and injuries by a staggering 46.6%. These figures emerge even as the police union’s president insists it operates with a staffing level only 80% of its authorized strength of 633 officers.

Technology: The Invisible Hand?

The city’s police department has been an early adopter of emerging law enforcement technologies. Of particular note are the Flock automated license plate readers and a state-of-the-art real-time surveillance center. These tools have proven effective in both identifying suspects and aiding in the recovery of stolen property, often in real-time.

Correlation does not imply causation, but the synchronicity between the decline in gun violence and the adoption of these technologies is hard to overlook. While it would be premature to attribute the dip in crime solely to technological advancements, they could very well be a contributing factor.

Despite concerns about privacy and potential discrimination, removing the newly implemented technologies would be a politically fraught endeavor, especially given their apparent success on paper. Thus, it may be more pragmatic to redirect the savings achieved through technology towards serving marginalized communities and addressing the root causes of crime.

A Fiscal Reckoning

The confluence of declining crime rates and technological efficacy suggests that Lexington might not need to expand its police force. This poses a budgetary question: Could the city reallocate those potential funds to other pressing civic needs?

As Lexington’s voters look ahead to its 2024 local elections, the conversation about police staffing has taken on a new sense of urgency. The latest data and the efficacy of technological interventions offer a nuanced landscape for public debate. The intersection of declining gun violence and the advent of sophisticated policing technology poses a complex question: Can a city maintain public safety with a smaller, but more technologically adept, police force?

Top photo: The Lexington Police Department’s new East Sector Roll Call station on Clearwater Way. (The Lexington Times)