INDIANAPOLIS — As Indianapolis sees a record-setting pace in homicides for the second year in a row, city leaders are working to move the needle on violent crime.
“We don’t want to live this way. Everybody in this community doesn’t want to live this way,” IMPD Public Information Officer Genae Cook said. “If you know of something happening, it’s time to come forward and let officers know.”
As of the middle of August, Indianapolis has seen 163 homicides, compared to 134 homicides at the same time in 2020. The city has also seen an increase in non-fatal shootings, with more than 400 as of the end of July in 2021 compared to around 325 at the same time in 2020.
“I think it’s always frustrating to see those numbers continue to climb,” said IMPD deputy chief Craig McCartt. “I think we’re to the point that people have come to the realization that enough is enough.”
All the homicides and shootings in Indianapolis have even started to impact Indianapolis’ tourism industry, with a massive shootout in downtown Indy in June causing some business owners to worry about people reconsidering visiting.
Dozens of shell casings littered the ground, a car with a rifle and bullet holes was discovered on Monument Circle. No one was found injured at the scene, though at least two people reported to Indianapolis hospitals with bullet wounds that may or may not be related to the shootout.
“It’s a bad look for the city. Real bad look,” Tom Sutton at Coaches Tavern said. “People won’t want to come here. If they don’t feel safe, they’re not gonna come here, they’re gonna take their business elsewhere, it’s gonna hurt us, it’s gonna hurt us business owners who are just now trying to get back up off the mat from COVID.”
Bar and hotel managers who were not authorized to comment on camera told FOX59 that they expect news of the overnight gunfight to hurt business as visitors are less likely to come downtown and employees are hesitant to report for work because of the danger they face walking back to their vehicles after their shift.
But even as the city looks to reduce violence through a grant program and supporting additional funding to the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department, Pastor James Jackson says police can’t do it all on their own.
“We do nothing by ourselves,” Jackson said. “They have to have the community, and information to be able to do what they do. ”
The renewed effort to curb violent crime in Indy came fresh off a record-setting year for homicides in Indianapolis. In January, Mayor Joe Hogsett previewed changes in strategy looking forward at 2021. During the briefing, he announced additional funding for violence prevention.
“We are funding at historic levels the community-based violence prevention organizations more than ever before with a more coordinated and data-driven approach,” said Hogsett.
In the midst of the record-setting year in 2020, the Indianapolis City-County Council announced they would use focused data, from 2014-2018, as a way to help the highest crime areas. IUPUI’s Polis Center program, SAVI provided each councilor with a profile of their district which included the violent crime index, a measurement of the district’s violent crime plus the factors likely leading to violent crime.
This data went towards helping city councilors determine criteria for crime prevention grants, which were announced in late June. Forty grassroots, neighborhood-based organizations received district crime prevention grants which “show potential to reduce crime in Marion County.”
Councilor Zach Adamson decided to focus the district’s priorities for the funding on workforce development and basic needs and wrap-around supports. He said these grants are just the start of the work to help “move the needle” on violent crime.
“I don’t see these crime grants being a standalone solution to anything,” Adamson said. “Because it’s $40,00. You’re not going to be able to take $40,000 and move the needle on anything. But if you got existing programming, you can supplement what you are doing and then move the needle maybe by adding this to your arsenal of resources.”
Seventy-three grassroots organizations applied to receive grants from this pilot program, but 40 received some funding.
District 13 has the second-highest violent crime index, according to the SAVI data. New Direction Church has a campus in this district and got $5,000 from the grant program to go towards their youth summer employment program for teens ages 13-17.
“One of the things that we instill in them is a good work ethic, timeliness, and just respecting others and all the principles that they need to learn so they can be effective in the real world,” said Kenneth Sullivan, Jr., a Senior Pastor at New Direction Church.”
The Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department is also trying to figure out the best way to use the limited resources they have to have as large of an impact as possible.
Deputy Chief Joshua Barker with the IMPD said the department’s use of data in this effort is always evolving.
“What we struggle with right now is having up-to-date programming that leverages today’s technology of taking in the massive amount of data that we do on a daily basis and using that technology to cipher out the facts and data points that matter to help us make better-informed decisions to deploy our resources in an impactful way.”
Deputy Chief Barker said they also face the issue of a constant battle between hiring new officers and losing officers who are retiring, along with their institutional knowledge.
“If I can’t control the size of the jurisdiction, and we know that at 1,743 officers that’s a finite amount of resources, the only thing that I can do is leverage that data and technology to tell me how do I control the volume of work that we are requiring our men and women to respond to,” Barker said.
One method the department is utilizing is taking a look at recent non-fatal shootings to try to identify those that have a likelihood for retaliation. They are also working with community and criminal justice partners to work with those at risk for becoming offenders.
An example is an initiative the Marion County Prosecutor’s Office announced at the beginning of June where certain low-level, nonviolent juvenile offenders would be referred to the Boys & Girls Club instead of getting charged. The program is designed to invest in younger people who are accused, for the first time, of committing low-level, nonviolent offenses.
The Indy Public Safety Foundation is also working with people that have deep roots in the community to act as credible messengers and interrupt conflicts that have active threats.
Interrupters refer families and residents involved in violence to support programs. There are also funds that can be paid to potential offenders or victims who attempt to turn their lives around.
These community-based anti-violence programs are getting a boost, with Mayor Hogsett announcing that he will spend $15 Million a year for the next three years on these programs.
The Central Indiana Community Fund will gear up to monitor a larger program helping community groups develop their proposal, monitor their progress and eventually get to the point to stand up to get their own funding in the years to come.
City representatives say as they continue to work to move the dial on violence, they will continue to improve their technology to be more data-driven, They are also working to increase community engagement, better officer training and continue to help those suffering mental health crises.
“The more that we can communicate, coordinate and collaborate, the more that we can get resources and making sure that we’re not duplicating those efforts,” said Lauren Rodriguez, director of the Office of Public Health and Safety.
In September, the Hogsett administration will go before a City-County council committee to spell out its spending priorities for the 2022 community anti-violence grants.