INDIANAPOLIS — At least 269 people have been killed in Indianapolis so far this year, making it the most deadly on record. Thanks to federal dollars, Indy will pour $150 million into violence reduction over the next three years.
The Office of Public Health & Safety Director Lauren Rodriguez said she is hopeful more face-to-face work between her violence interruption team and those people most likely to be involved in crime will be possible, even if the pandemic does not ease up for a while.
“We’ve been able to have face-to-face interactions this year which is great and we’re all hoping that they continue into 2022,” Rodriguez said. “Obviously, we now know how to adapt if the omicron variant comes out and makes us shut down. We have the ability to adapt to these situations now.”
Shardae Hoskins, one of the city’s community resource coordinators, spoke to FOX59 after responding to the triple shooting that left two people dead near 71st and Michigan Road Tuesday night. As usual, IMPD officers made the call to the OPHS Emergency Crime Scene Response Team.
“What are you needing,” Shardae said, explaining her team’s role with officers and the community. “Is there anything that we can take care of right away?”
Unfortunately, this scene is one of many Hoskins and her team has responded to in 2021, working to control the scene, connect families with resources and assess threats of retaliation.
“Does somebody need to stay up a little bit longer to make sure this doesn’t escalate or go somewhere else,” Hoskins said.
Currently, OPHS has a team of roughly 12 people. But, federal funding from the American Rescue Plan will allow them to expand to 50 over the next year.
Rodriguez said interviews for these positions have started, and the first roles should be filled in January.
“We are making sure that the candidates that we get in that are one, they are true believers in the model and want to help out our community,” Rodriguez said. “So, we’re obviously being very selective in our approach to these individuals.”
The model Rodriguez is referring to is that of the National Institute of Criminal Justice Reform. In October, NICJR Executive Director David Muhammad visited Indy to discuss the launch of this violence reduction model.
“The program is evidence-based and it is data-backed,” Hogsett said during the October news conference with NICJR leaders and other elected and appointed officials. “Ultimately, it focuses on how we can identify the individuals and the groups most likely to be involved in gun violence, and thereby intervene before violence occurs.”
Those identified will be connected with a life coach-type of mentor who will talk to them daily and meet with them multiple times a week at first.
“Someone who’s going to work with that person, develop a positive, trusting relationship with them first,” Muhammad said. “First about an intensive relationship, then once you have a relationship with them, you can influence them and your influence can turn into better decision making.”
This model is based in Oakland, CA and those backing the plan insist if the city is hyper-focused on reducing shootings and homicides, positive results could come within six months.
“It’s unique to Indianapolis in the sense that our team is really implementing it and making it fit what we need here in Indianapolis, making sure that the outreach workers are in the communities,” Rodriguez said.
Rev. Charles Harrison, senior pastor of Barnes United Methodist Church and president of the Indianapolis TenPoint Coalition, is hopeful collaboration in 2022 will make a difference. He is also in communication with violence reduction teams in Boston and hopes Indy will also look to those city leaders for answers.
According to Boston Police data, the city, with about 684,000 people, has had 40 homicides in 2021.
“As other cities are seeing a dramatic surge in violence; Boston has seen a reduction,” Harrison said. “They are 20 homicides below where they were last year.”
Harrison’s team just received $60,000 in grant money from the city. After nearly three decades of work in Indy, he said he hopes city-wide collaboration means everyone doing the work has a voice in strategizing.
“I think it would be helpful if I was a part of those conversations because I travel to cities all over the country to implement the violence reduction model that TenPoint uses,” Harrison said. “I would love to see the city not just talk to Oakland, but I think we need to bring the people in from Boston. They have the best model in the country by far.”