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Indianapolis to host national public safety forum

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (Mar. 8, 2016)-- Indianapolis’ efforts to revamp its policing strategies and improve its community involvement in public safety have garnered national attention.

When Troy Riggs was the public safety director and Rick Hite his IMPD chief, Indianapolis was twice represented at White House conferences on community policing.

United States Attorney General Loretta Lynch is expected to visit Indianapolis later this spring to see firsthand the city’s progress in reaching out to the community in support of policing issues while addressing problems such as food insecurity, poverty and mental illness and their impact on public safety.

Wednesday IMPD and the Public Policy Institute of the School of Public and Environmental Affairs at IUPUI will host a National Public Safety Forum on Policing and Community Relations at the Main Branch of the Indianapolis Public Library.

The forum will draw national experts like the longtime progressive chief of the Denver Police Department R.C. White and Dr. David Carter of Michigan State University, author of an after action report on the police response to the Ferguson, Missouri, unrest of 2014.

“We do research nationwide on a number of issues,” said Dr. Jeremy Carter of SPEA at IUPUI. “Being able to do it right here in our backyard with IMPD, a very, to my experience, open progressive police department to tackle these issues, has been a serious benefit.

“Luckily Indianapolis hasn’t suffered from some of the incidents that we have seen nationwide.”

Despite disintegrating police/community relations in several cities across the country, Indianapolis has avoided that type of public meltdown despite a handful of fatal police action shootings, the murders of two IMPD officer’s within one year and a dramatic increase in the number of criminal homicides.

“We want to make sure our police department is more professional, there’s a better relationship with the community, and these type of conversations and being honest about it helps,” said Riggs who spent six months in 2015 at the Public Policy Institute before returning as chief of IMPD January 1st. “It showcases our city, it showcases our willingness to discuss tough issues but I think it also says something about IMPD, Joe Hogsett and his administration, that we’re able to bring in the best and brightest across this nation to have a conversation here in Indianapolis.”

The forum is financially sponsored by the Eli Lilly Foundation and the Central Indiana Community Foundation at no cost to taxpayers.

“I think the vision is to have Indianapolis lead the conversation nationwide of some of these high level topics we need to be discussing as a community in terms of police and community accountability,” said Dane Nutty, executive director of the Indianapolis Public Safety Foundation which helped organize the forum. “We do have expertise here. We do have skill and talent. It's time for us to have those hard conversations and really develop some solutions.”

The concept of placing Indianapolis at the forefront of both practices and the study of contemporary community policing picked up momentum during Riggs’ tenure after leaving the administration of outgoing Mayor Greg Ballard.

“People are intrigued by the process that we’re going through as far as trying to involve the community in a lot of the decision making,” said Riggs, “looking for non-profit help, looking at data, and not just crime data, but those systemic issues that lead to crime, so people are intrigued by that. We’re getting calls from across the nation.”

So that lessons from IMPD’s new approach and the best practices brought here by forum participants aren’t lost, IUPUI researchers will digest and compile the findings and write a white paper to be published and read by police chiefs, mayors and industry and academic experts availing themselves of the latest in progressive public safety thinking and put Indianapolis and the Public Policy Institute on the map when it comes to examining and implementing the latest in 21st century policing procedures.

“We’re looking to make peoples’ jobs better easier,” said Carter. “IMPD now is in a real prime position, not only with Chief Riggs and the things that are going on in Indianapolis and the resources here in SPEA and other places in the community, but they’re hiring new officers where we have large cohorts of officers, I believe they just swore in 74 here recently, we have the COPS grants to hire more officers to be community focused and with this new wave of officers you have officers who are more educated, they are more experienced coming out of college, they’re more critical thinkers, they’re more data savvy, they’re more media savvy, they’re better at critical thinking and problem solving, they’re overall better officers and they get the big picture.”

For all of Indianapolis’ positioning as a leader in revamping the way police officers patrol their community in the future, the city is still struggling with a murder tally that is tragically reminiscent of 2015’s record for violent deaths.

As of this morning, IMPD recorded 22 homicides this year, listing 18 of them as murders.

All were due to gunshot wounds and seven were drug-related as Riggs told reporters that last year’s second half spasm of violence has spilled over to 2016.