Reviewing UK gun violence: Near-campus neighborhoods share some of Lexington’s surge in gun-related crime

Joshua Qualls

Blue emergency towers stalk would-be offenders throughout UK’s campus, and some students use an app on their smartphones as a last line of defense. But some people may wonder: Is all this technology enough?

UK Police Chief Joe Monroe said those are just a couple things in the university’s toolbox to keep crime at bay, but it takes more than that to keep campus safe.

The UK Police Department logged two citations in 2015 for weapons possession, a misdemeanor charge. By contrast, the Lexington Police Department logged 95 assaults and 10 murders with firearms in the same year.

Of crimes with firearms, nine assaults and one fatal shooting happened within 1.5 miles of UK’s campus. Two fatal shootings have occurred within 1.5 miles of campus since Jan. 1.

Firearms at UK: the stories

The first citation UKPD issued for weapons possession last year was Aug. 1, when officer Michael Montoya pulled over Nicholas Sininger of Lexington on East Maxwell Street for driving with an outdated license plate. 

Montoya noticed the strong odor of marijuana coming from the vehicle as he approached it, according to the police report. Sininger told the officer that the vehicle belonged to his mother.

Sininger popped the trunk per Montoya’s request, and the officer found 36 grams of marijuana.

When asked if he had any weapons, Sininger admitted that he had a handgun under the front passenger seat. He apologized for not mentioning it sooner, saying that he did not think Montoya would search the vehicle.

Montoya cited Sininger for the three misdemeanor charges, confiscated both the firearm and the marijuana, and let him go.

The second citation UKPD issued for weapons possession was Oct. 6, when officer Joshua McConnell arrested a convicted felon in UK Chandler Hospital’s emergency room for multiple offenses.

UKPD redacted this offender’s personally identifiable information and the officer’s statement in records provided to the Kentucky Kernel.

UKPD charged the offender with two felonies, including possession of a handgun by a convicted felon and first-degree possession of a controlled substance, as well as the misdemeanor charge of carrying a concealed weapon.

McConnell confiscated a handgun, ammunition and one gram of cocaine, according to the police report.

UKPD’s jurisdiction often changes, but it includes all of the property that the university owns in each of Kentucky’s 120 counties. The department gets additional jurisdiction for leased property and sporting events, and the city of Lexington or the Fayette County sheriff may also give UKPD jurisdiction in various situations.

As the fatal shooting of formal Kernel photo editor Jonathan Krueger happened outside of UKPD’s jurisdiction, his case was investigated by LPD.

Firearms in Lexington: the numbers

LPD, which has jurisdiction over all of Fayette County, held a press conference Jan. 13 to address an alarming uptick in violent crimes since the beginning of this year, including the two fatal shootings near campus.

“We know two things about criminals and custody: When they’re on the streets they commit crimes, and when they’re in custody they don’t,” said Ray Larson, Fayette County’s commonwealth attorney. “We owe more to the good guys in this town than we do the bad guys.”

Four people had been fatally shot since Jan. 1. Four people also were fatally shot in June last year, a month that saw 14 assaults with firearms — the second highest number of any month in the year.

LPD has yet to release its Annual Report for 2015, but in 2014 it recorded nearly 3,400 total assaults, ranging from aggravated assault to forcible rape and everything in between.

The Kernel obtained records from LPD to identify high-risk areas in the city of Lexington. Most of the assaults with firearms happened in the Northeast part of town. The fatal shootings happened in various parts, but mostly north of the city.

Some of LPD’s data comes up with multiple counts, but overall last year saw 84 unique assaults with firearms. Each fatal shooting counted in the report is a unique event.

Sixty-one assaults with firearms occurred between the hours of 9 p.m. and 4 a.m. in 2015, according to LPD data. The peak time of day was from 9 p.m. to 10 p.m., with 12 assaults — about 12.6 percent of the total — happening within that timeframe throughout the year.

On the prowl: keeping Cats safe

Monroe said UKPD puts a strong emphasis on patrolling the area to fend off violent crime.

UKPD keeps an online daily crime log that can be viewed by anyone. This log sometimes includes reports from LPD, depending on the crime’s proximity to campus.

The blue emergency towers throughout campus connect those in distress to UKPD’s dispatchers at the press of a button. They can be found along the Cat’s Path — well-lit routes through high-traffic areas that are recognizable by a series of big blue paw prints painted along the walkway.

Monroe said UKPD sends out UK Alert notifications by phone, text and email whenever the department receives any report involving weapons, and these alerts sometimes extend beyond the department’s jurisdiction depending on how close it is to campus.

“Safety on campus is the number one priority,” Monroe said.

UKPD sent out a campus-wide email Feb. 1 encouraging students, faculty and staff to take its free Citizen Police Academy classes. The classes are Tuesdays from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. in room 214 of White Hall Classroom Building, beginning Feb. 16 and ending April 5.

According to the email, the classes will provide an overview on university policing and will be presented through lectures, audio-visual aids and interactive scenarios. Topics include criminal procedure, K-9 operations, firearms and use of force, DUIs, the “Dignitary Protection Team,” and crisis management and preparedness.

Safety: behind the scenes

Monroe suggested downloading the LiveSafe app, a joint effort by UKPD and the Student Government Association that launched in March last year. The app offers several safety features, including tip submissions and emergency options.

The app has been downloaded about 4,100 times as of December, and users have since used it to conduct more than 1,000 “SafeWalks,” a feature that allows people to track their friends using GPS. UKPD also has received 70 tips and 32 emergency contacts with LiveSafe in that time, Monroe said.

SGA teamed up with Bluegrass Cab to provide Cats Cab, a free-for-students taxi service that runs Thursdays through Saturdays from 10 p.m. to 3 a.m. throughout the academic year. The service, designed to keep students safe, now operates seven cabs; while it has its own app, LiveSafe has a link to call for one, too. 

Last year UK’s C.A.T.S. Survey primarily focused on sexual violence and partner violence, but it did touch on some general perceptions about safety. Of the students who took the survey, 98.2 percent reported that they felt safe on campus during the day, and 77.2 percent reported that they felt safe at night.

The survey also showed that 93.9 percent of students felt like the university cares about safety, and 86.2 percent reported to receive crime bulletins, such as UK Alerts.

Bryan Adams, a mathematical economics senior, lived near the area where Krueger was fatally shot. Adams said there will never be a guarantee of safety, but he feels safe on campus — partially because of the alerts.

“If anything, I would only want better warnings when that kind of thing happens,” Adams said. “But it’s hard to get better than what (UK does), I guess, with phone calls and phone alerts in the middle of the night.”