Indianapolis Housing Agency struggles under growing rate of crime

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind.-- Crime is climbing across the apartment and townhome properties that many of the Indianapolis Housing Agency’s (IHA) 22,000 residents call home.

Ever since local officials stopped enforcing the "One Strike Rule," a previous U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development policy to evict felons and persons accused of crimes from public housing, crime has increased the last two years and is up system wide 25-28 percent in 2018.

Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department (IMPD) Chief Bryan Roach didn’t know that until he took a walk with Mayor Joe Hogsett through the Laurelwood public housing community last week.

“Had we not walked there, I don’t know that that would have been communicated,” said the chief.

IHA Interim Executive Director Jennifer Green told reporters Monday that she also didn’t know things had gotten that bad, so, she held a meeting with Roach Wednesday morning to ask what IMPD could do to help solve her problem.

“They have 16 properties and I think if you look statistically, some of their property crimes have increased over the last few years which is different than what we’ve seen in Marion County,” said Roach who presided over a 10-percent drop in reported crime across the city last year. “We will try to identify what the issues are, how we as a police department can help. We talked about cameras. We talked about part-time security.”

IHA’s IT director told reporters he had never examined all 422 agency surveillance cameras before this week and found 71 of them to be defective.

The agency is heavily reliant on part-time police officers who work off-duty to patrol its properties.

In 2012, the agency budget exceeded more than $700,000 for such patrols.

This year, that budget has been slashed to $287,000 while five of IHA’s biggest properties have seen crime rates climb 14-77 percent.

Chief Roach said he recognizes that on-duty patrols and off-duty part-time officers may have limited options when it comes to policing properties governed by federal housing rules and nominally overseen by IHA’s own small police force.

“One thing I don’t want to do is put our officers in a position where they’re policing administrative-type rules and so we had the discussion about they know about those rules and they don’t but together whether its administrative policy that they use in order to drive down that crime or if it’s a law enforcement issue. I think both tools need to be used,” he said.

During all of 2017,  there were 13 robberies in public housing. So far this year there have been 31 robberies and 16 of them have been reported in Beechwood Gardens.

“I feel safe here. Anytime I come in the lighting is good,” said resident Sharon Cannon as she pulled out of the east side complex Thursday. “I don’t see it here anymore than I see it anywhere else in the city.”

President of the Barton Tower Resident Council Bonita Davis said her building’s downtown location makes it a potential haven for the homeless seeking shelter.

“We have a lot of undesirables in our building and right now we’re working with management and with IMPD to solve that problem,” she said. “We have a lot of residents that have mental issues or medication and they have threatened the staff at times. I’ve even been threatened from time to time the last couple years.”

At Laurelwood on the south side, the location of Mayor Hogsett’s walk with Chief Roach last week, the woman who guided them through the community and introduced them to residents with safety and maintenance concerns has been told she’s being suspended from her IHA job for three days this month.

Sandra Bailey’s desk will be empty for three Fridays starting tomorrow.

Miss Bailey, the Laurelwood Council President and resident liaison, took her complaints about an abusive resident who threatened neighbors and staff, to HUD’s Indiana regional office last month, two weeks before the mayor’s visit.

Two days after Hogsett’s tour, Bailey was suspended.

Bypassing IHA officials, her bosses said Bailey violated resident confidentiality rules even though her report remained internally within HUD, the federal department that provides the local public housing agency with its $68 million operating budget.

Bailey said she intends to appeal her suspension, arguing that the report was filed to protect staff and residents after she perceived IHA would not take any action.

Chief Roach told FOX59 it is his understanding that Interim Executive Director Green would be holding a meeting with her leadership team later this month to brainstorm IHA public safety solutions.

He has asked to attend that meeting.