INDIANAPOLIS — Since receiving confirmation of a $419 million check from the federal government’s American Rescue Plan Act last summer, Mayor Joe Hogsett has touted the $45 million he intends to pour into community anti-violence programs in Indianapolis over the next three years to fight crime at the neighborhood level, but that money won’t be handed out until later this spring and the fall and the city may not know for months or even years if the mayor’s big bet will pay off.
“We know it’s working,” said Hogsett after he completed a tour of the Brookside Community Development Corporation and held conversations with a handful of ex-offenders who participate in its programs. “You just heard it inside today.”
Last year, Brookside received $163,000 in community anti-violence grants to provide housing, addiction and behavioral counseling, food pantry and job services to returning persons leaving the correction system and coming home to the eastside.
Hogsett said Brookside’s track record of success sets up the community center and programs like it for future funding.
“Maybe not the $15 million that will be distributed this coming year, but it’s being able to scale up programs throughout the community to initiate new programs where appropriate where I think will have a transformative effect not just three years from now but beginning this year. We certainly expect to see progress being made.”
One of the ex-offenders who told Hogsett about his path back to responsibility was Coi Taylor who was celebrating the day he completed four years of court ordered probation.
“This right here can work,” said Coi, who was shot during a drug deal several years ago, “but sometimes it takes people from the neighborhood to stand up to bring other people from the neighborhood.”
Hogsett said the city may not see the fruits of his 2022 $15 million spending spree for years to come.
“I think Coi is a good example. He’s four years in the making and if we’re gonna have more Cois, it may take another two, three or four years to get those people off 10th street or off Brookside and into meaningful employment and meaningful lives where they can be productive and reputable citizens.”
Brookside CEO David Cederquist said his program has grown to the point where only 22% of its funding is the result of city grants.
“We served about 400 individuals in re-entry last year. About 32 of them went through our Isaiah House program. I think only two of them…one violated and went back to prison and one picked up a new case,” said Cederquist, referring to the program that temporarily houses clients most at risk for reoffending upon release. “In the last three years we have served 96 men and women through Isaiah House and we’ve probably seen less than no more than six in that category.”
Another initiative in line for enhanced funding that the mayor is banking on beginning this year is the training and assignment of 50 Violence Interrupters to reach out to community members likely involved in violence but not inclined to cooperate with law enforcement or traditional programs.
Last spring, one violence interrupter trainer was separated from the program after engaging in provocative social media messaging with members of that target community while another former violence interrupter was arrested last week on gun and drug charges.
FOX59 News asked the mayor if those two cases indicate a lack of vetting or control of the violence interrupters or dependence on unreliable messengers of the city’s anti-violence message.
“Yes, you are hiring people in these violence interrupter positions who have criminal records and a checkered past,” said Hogsett. “Not every single one will be successful. We will vet them very carefully. We will eradicate problems where they exist. We’ll pivot when we need to pivot, but for the most part, I believe that the credibility that is established on the streets among those we’re trying to reach is enormously important and with that credibility comes some risk. I’m willing to take that risk…to a point…and people will be held accountable if they are in violation of what our expectations are of them.”
The violence interrupters are employed by the Indianapolis Public Safety Foundation which received a $400,000 grant last year to hire, train and assign the expanded unit.
“We’re hiring humans,” said Lauren Rodriguez, director of the Office of Public Health and Safety. “At the end of the day, we are asking people to leave the situations that they were once in and make sure that they go back to those situations but on a different level…but you also have to remember that these individuals are working through their own issues, their own traumas, and we’re there alongside them trying to give them resources and this means that we may lose some along the way but it doesn’t mean that we don’t lose sight of them and continue helping them along the way.”
With Hogsett’s five-fold pledge to increase community anti-violence spending comes a commitment to enhanced monitoring of the distribution and utilization of those funds.
“We are working with the Central Indiana Community Foundation to distribute it twice, in the spring and fall,” said Rodriguez, “but you also have to remember the federal dollars have been going out since last year as well, so, we have dollars that are out in the community from ARPA that go for crime prevention, go to mental health, go to the root causes of crime.”
For several years CICF awarded city grants for the following year in early August before fully reviewing the previous year’s spending.
Now the grants calendar has been extended and CICF has stepped up its reviews of recipients’ spending and contract compliance.
“We are working on evaluating everything each month and we will hopefully have a report for everybody at the end of the year,” said Rodriguez, “but we are always welcome to questions and we will definitely dissect everything that we are putting out there so that we know that its working.”
In late February, OPHS will begin issuing monthly reports to the City-County Council tracking the spending of community anti-violence grants.