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Early 2017 homicide total climbs as Mayor Hogsett stays the course

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind.-- When he raised his right hand to be sworn into office on Jan. 1, 2016, Joe Hogsett proclaimed himself as Indianapolis’ “public safety mayor.”

Two months into his second year in charge, Hogsett is presiding over an early 2017 homicide tally that is on a pace to shatter the record years of 2015 and 2016.

“You really can’t judge based on any one month,” said Hogsett as he walked along West Washington Street with IMPD Chief Bryan Roach to meet local business owners and talk about community policing. “While we had an increased number of homicides in Indianapolis last year, it was only a two percent increase, whereas other urban areas throughout the Midwest, and frankly throughout the country in some instances, experienced 15-20 percent increases in the number of homicides.”

During January and February of 2015 and 2016, Indianapolis’ homicide total stood at 17 each year.

The 2017 tally by Feb. 28 was at least 21 homicides, according to IMPD.

There were 171 homicides which resulted in 149 murders in 2016, a recent high water mark for killings in the city.

“We have the same challenges that we had on the very first day,” said Hogsett, recalling the day he was sworn in. “Too many gun-related acts of violence, too many homicides, but with the investments we have been making over the last fourteen months with Chief Roach’s leadership I hope that we’re able to turn the corner and start reducing the amounts of violence.”

Hogsett’s westside foot tour came hours after 36 veteran IMPD officers, representing more than 700 years of experience, were honored during a retirees’ luncheon while the mayor expects to graduate 85 more recruits from the department’s training academy by the end of the year.

“These new young officers are, I think, very very aggressive,” said the mayor, “and will be very well trained and will increase the total overall number of officers that we’re able to put out on the street.”

Detective Rick Burkhardt spent 34 years at IPD and IMPD, devoting decades to investigating murders and sexual assaults.

“You’re learning from everybody that you worked with. You worked as a team and so I think every day you learned something new,” said Burkhardt as he considered whether the nature of crime had changed since he came on the force.  “I don’t think it is any different from what it was. Some parts of it I think was even worse in the early nineties when crack was coming around…that was new to the city so I think we took a sharp turn for crime here.”

Burkhardt was the lead investigator on 30 murders during his years as a homicide detective.

Not all of his investigations resulted in convictions.

“There were ones you absolutely knew who did it but you couldn’t make the case,” he said. “Then there were ones you had no idea who did it.”

Last year, IMPD detectives considered 55 percent of their homicide cases solved by a branch that has not grown to match the increase workload and has lost several veteran investigators to retirement or reassignment.