In the mid-to-late 1990s, Radcliff Police Chief Jeff Cross and Vine Grove Police Chief Kenny Mattingly served as detectives at RPD and in the thick of investigations for multiple crimes involving dozens of gang members in Radcliff.
Cross, who has been RPD’s chief since 2008, said at one point there were more than 200 gang members in Radcliff alone.
“It wasn’t a good time,” he said. “It’s never been as bad as it was then.”
Many of those involved in gang activity ended up facing federal charges and were convicted.
That was then.
Local law-enforcement leaders throughout the county dispute a statement made by LaRue County Sheriff Russell McCoy that there is an “expansion of gangs right next door in Hardin County.” McCoy made the remark while speaking at a LaRue Fiscal Court meeting as the county passed a resolution to become a 2nd Amendment sanctuary county.
“If it’s expanding, I’ve not noticed it,” said Hardin County Sheriff John Ward, the former commander of Kentucky State Police Post 4. “I’ve been back here since 2004 (serving in law enforcement) and I have not seen it and hopefully it stays that way.”
On Friday, McCoy didn’t dispute what he said at the meeting. He said he didn’t believe gang activity was rampant in Hardin County and acknowledged LaRue County had “some” gang activity, too.
He said a recent arrest of an adult and two juveniles from Hardin County involved in a shooting in the Roanoke area of LaRue County prompted his comment. McCoy said the suspects said they were Crips gang members.
“It’s one incident that filtered over to LaRue County,” he said. “It was just a general statement.”
Mattingly, Vine Grove’s chief since 2012, said he has seen gang activity up close in Hardin County when it involved shootings, robberies, assaults and other violent crimes.
“It’s night and day compared to what it once was here,” he said. “It was blatantly obvious. We had a huge gang issue here. We don’t have gang-related activities in Vine Grove that I’ve seen or that I’m aware of.”
At one point in the 1990s it got so bad, Cross said, one gang would break into the stores of gun dealers to provide weapons for another gang.
He said there were multiple gang affiliations in the city then.
“They weren’t wannabe gang members, they were gang members,” Cross said.
He said the wave of arrests on federal charges where there is no parole helped curb gang activity within the county.
“We have no indication there is a serious gang problem,” he said. “You might have four or five people and they call themselves a gang, but there is absolutely nothing to indicate we have a gang problem. We’re not seeing a consistency in the crimes that are gang related or having a gang take responsibility for crimes.”
Elizabethtown Police Chief Jeremy Thompson, who retired from the Kentucky State Police and was law-enforcement coordinator for the U.S. Attorney’s Office representing the Western District of Kentucky when he accepted his EPD post last April, said, “I know what a gang problem looks like and I don’t see that here. To think there is no gang violence in Hardin County would be naive.
“We’re not going to bury our heads in the sand,” Thompson said. “If we feel like we have something to address, we address it.”
Thompson said McCoy is entitled to have an opinion just like anyone else.
“I usually don’t get too tore up by what somebody says,” Thompson said. “If that’s the sheriffs’ opinion, so be it.”