Indianapolis FOP, ministers announce citizens commission on violence

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. -- Stung by a party-line vote that saw Democrats on a city-county council committee defeat a Republican plan to study Indianapolis violence less than two hours before four people were found shot to death on the northeast side, the Fraternal Order of Police and clergy members announced plans Thursday to do their own study on how to address violent crime in the city.

“We are announcing that we will move forward with announcing a citizens coalition on criminal justice outcomes,” said FOP Lodge 86 President Rick Snyder, flanked by four leading Indianapolis ministers. “We will tackle those issues.”

Such a coalition would include some of the elements of the GOP proposal that was defeated by the council’s Public Safety and Criminal Justice Committee Wednesday night.

Last month, four days after council Republicans unveiled their proposal, Committee Chairman Leroy Robinson -- a Democrat -- responded with his own plan to beef up stakeholder reporting to the committee, develop public safety plans for each council district and study criminal justice equity.

But Thursday, during a news conference alongside Mayor Joe Hogsett, Robinson refused to discuss any new observations or solutions that have developed in the wake of his committee’s defeat of the GOP plan and the murders of three men and a woman -- ages 19-21 -- in an apartment complex near East 42nd Street and North Mithoeffer Road.

“Our focus is not on the policies that we will create,” said Robinson. “I filed a press release last night that talked about our next steps, myself, President (Vop) Osili and members of the council are focused on the four young lives that were lost last night and not today talking about policy and politics.”

Robinson may not have wanted to talk about policy and politics, but the man who staked his legacy on being Indianapolis’ “Public Safety Mayor” did.

“Local government has created commissions, committees and funded studies. We’ve heard from subject matter experts and adopted best practices,” said Hogsett, “because despite millions of dollars in taxpayer investments in policing and neighborhood anti-violence initiatives in recent years, time and time again we are confronted with the ripple effects of the proliferation of guns, drugs and poverty in our neighborhoods.

“Think about that for a minute,” Hogsett continued. “Committee. Commission. Planning council. Board. Bureau. Panel. Agency. The idea that if only we had one more bureaucratic entity studying violence then our problems would be solved. That is ludicrous.

“Let me say in thirty seconds what a study commission would take thirty weeks to tell us all: Systemic poverty is creating a school-to-prison pipeline for generation after generation of our young people. An opioid epidemic and a mental health crisis have added gasoline to that fire. Too many illegal guns are awash on our streets. Our juvenile justice system is antiquated. These things taken together are what’s driving violence on our streets. We know this. The community knows this.”

Pastor James Jackson of Fervent Prayer Church knows it. He preaches every Sunday from a pulpit less than two miles from the site of Wednesday night’s murders.

“I don’t have to tell you that working with this administration is very difficult,” said Jackson. “The mayor said we are one city. I think that refers to one party. And if you’re on the outside of that, you just don’t get the kind of support or access that you need.

“We’re dealing with an administration and we’re dealing with a chairman of public safety who’s too proud to reach out to other people who are not just talking about it, I’m talking about people who know what they’re talking about.

“Pride goeth before a great fall,” quoted the pastor, “and I’m disappointed with Chairman Robinson, who believes that he has done a great job. I think that if you look at his numbers, no you haven’t done a great job. You have to acknowledge the fact that you have failed and that you have to get the help of other people.”

Snyder cited recent crime statistics that indicate while Indianapolis’ 2019 murder total was down slightly from the year before, not only has it bounced back with a vengeance in 2020, other types of violent crime have too.

“The latest information we have is just in the last month in January, we had already nearly doubled the average number of business robberies in our community,” said the elected leader of more than 1700 Indianapolis Metropolitan Police officers. “As of today, in the last 89 days, we have had 177 people shot, 59 people stabbed and 51 people killed. The violence is surging. That is on top of two of the highest months for homicides last year, November and December. We’ve had now 24 homicides in the first 36 days of the new year.

“This now means we’ve had a total of 236 people shot or stabbed in our community.”

Snyder recently released his own seven-step plan for curbing violence, which includes a Commission on Criminal Justice Outcomes, judicial review of arrestees, reform of the juvenile system, establishment of a data base to track offenders and study of racial disparities among murder victims.

“Where’s our solution, where’s our plan and where’s our leaders?” Snyder asked hours after the mayor’s press conference. “I looked forward to seeing it today. I was hopeful to see it this morning, and it was made clear they have no plan.”

Pastor Jackson listed the type of listening sessions a citizens coalition could host.

“Meeting in churches. Meeting in cafes. Meeting in community centers. Meeting in convention centers. Meeting wherever we can with everybody we can to talk about not just solutions.”

The ministers who appeared with Snyder indicated they may raise the issue of violent crime during upcoming Sunday worship services.

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