Shreveport, LA Local 514 has taken a leading role in working with police and civic leaders to develop a long-term strategy for stemming escalating gun violence in the city.
Louisiana’s third-largest city with a population of nearly 200,000 has been wracked with steadily increasing gun violence in recent years, driven largely by gang and drug activity in the city’s most impoverished neighborhoods.
Local 514 President Barbara Sellers says the rise in gun violence is taking a toll on the under-staffed Shreveport Fire Department, with many fire fighters and paramedics demanding greater protection on the job and others seeking mental health assistance.
“This gun violence has been escalating over several years and has really changed the conversation around the delivery of public safety service,” Sellers says. “When we think about personal protective equipment, we used to talk about bunker gear; now members are requesting ballistic vests to protect them from gun fire.”
Sellers says fire fighters and paramedics in Shreveport have been worn down by the sheer number of emergency responses to drive-by shootings, domestic gun incidents and in particular incidents where children have been caught in the crossfire.
On May 5, President Sellers and members of Local 514 joined Shreveport police and other city and community leaders for a press conference raising the alarm about gun violence and calling for a collaborative and sustained effort to address the root causes of the problem.
Local 514, working with other stakeholders, released a position statement on the day of the press conference that serves as a call to action. It stated, in part: “We are calling on our citizens, elected leaders, our educators, the business community, our faith-based organizations, our neighborhood associations and all other stakeholders and agencies to work with us. We need your help to address the violence and find solutions that will make a difference in ensuring our city is a safe place to work and live.”
The day of the press conference turned out to be among Shreveport’s most violent, according to Sellers, who was on shift in the hours leading up to the press event. Multiple news reports later in the day noted that eight people had been shot in several incidents, with three left dead.
As a next step, Sellers says representatives from fire and police, the city and community groups will meet again June 10 to form subcommittees to begin addressing various issues related to gun violence. She says socio-economic challenges are a major factor, but also that the fire and police departments are both severely understaffed.
Fire fighter behavioral health is also a concern as Local 514 members repeatedly confront the carnage of gun violence. “We need to make sure our members are cared for and have the mental health support they need to do their jobs,” Sellers says.