Community conversation confidence low for improved police relations

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. - At the end of a Community Conversation session on improved IMPD-citizen relations Saturday, a disagreement broke out over perceived police profiling of black attendees at the Charles A. Tindley Accelerated School.

The argument ended with a handshake between a young woman and a Marion County Sheriff's deputy and voices raised in the back room by organizers of the event.

City-County Council President Vop Osili held the second of four community conversations begun after the IMPD Merit Board’s decision in May to not fire two officers involved in the fatal shooting of unarmed motorist Aaron Bailey in the summer of 2017.

A new report gauging the confidence of attendees in the ability of the conversations to improve police-community relations is not inspiring.

77% of those who responded to a survey after the May 31 conversation involving 175 people expressed no confidence or uncertainty as to whether the elected leadership of the city could affect positive change in IMPD-community relations.

70% doubted their own community leadership could accomplish that change while 83% said they didn’t know if or didn’t believe their ideas would help.

The survey’s authors from IUPUI cautioned, “that post-event surveys were completed by a self-selected group of Community Conversation participants (who) should not be considered a scientifically representative sample of Community Conversation participants or the community at large.”

“The community has to step up and take charge of their community or they’re gonna lose their community,” said Chris Staab of the Rivoli Park neighborhood.

“What actually got me involved was my particular street had a few homicides and the only way I actually knew my neighbors was the press showed up on my street,” said Staab. “I figured this was a very bad way to meet my neighbors and kind of made a point of getting around and knowing who my neighbors were.”

Staab said he began organizing neighborhood cleanups with the help of Keep Indianapolis Beautiful as a low-impact low-key way of engaging residents without attending city or police sponsored community events or being spotted by neighbors cooperating with officers.

“I’ve been an Adopt-A-Block captain for ten years,” he said. “We done numerous great Indy clean-up projects. We built an IPL Project Greenspace within the community. We have planted trees in the community. These are all very easy projects to do, they are a lot of fun to do. it’s a good way to meet your neighbors and its just something that betters your community by just being part of that organization.”

Last year at this time, Staab’s surrounding neighborhood in the 1000 block of Oakland Avenue was the location for five homicides.

This year the number is zero.

“Many of the neighbors have actually come back and told us how it has made a big change in the community in the past few years,” said Staab.

An area that could use that type of community building is the intersection of E. 42nd St. and North Post Rd., IMPD’s Beat 70, where there have been at least 11 homicides so far this year.

Last year, The Ross Foundation received $12,000 in a crime prevention grant for community building purposes in that area.

“We did a lot of community assistance events about the school giveaways, toy drives, Easter egg hunts, food drives, peace rallies, peace marches, to really rally the neighborhood together and unify them to show that we’ve really had enough and we want to create change,” said Derris Ross, “and once we got them there, we were able to address a lot of the barriers they had. These are the people whose need of assistance are the ones who probably are directly impacted by the systemic change of this area the most.”

Ross is seeking $100,000 this year to hire mentors for both youth in need of services and adults who have struggled to deal with the system due to past incarceration or the frustration of poverty.

“I would be able to hire my own people, residents from this community, who live and thrive on the 42nd and Post Road area who want to make a difference, who want to change but don’t have the time or finances to do it,” said Ross.

Within days Mayor Hogsett’s office will announce $300,000 in grants to fight youth violence while the Central Indiana Community Foundation has a Tuesday 5 p.m. deadline to receive applications for more than $2 million in crime prevention funding.

Attendees of this weekend’s Community Conversation called for expanding IMPD’s Mobile Crisis Assistance Team program to address the needs of the mentally ill, homeless or substance addicted, relieving Indianapolis’ food desert issue by making fresh affordable nutrition available throughout the city, encouraging IMPD officers to live in the neighborhoods they’re assigned to patrol and developing a list of rights and protocols for citizens regarding their interactions with police.

The next Community Conversation is set for September 15.