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INDIANAPOLIS — As Indianapolis is on the track to once again break the record for homicides, city, law enforcement and community leaders are working to figure out how to stop the violence.

So far in 2021, Indianapolis has seen 160 homicides through August 4 compared to 130 homicides to date in 2020. Of those homicides, more than half remain unsolved.

As of the end of July, Indianapolis remained on pace to break the record set in 2020.

With the continued rise in violent crime, many areas of Indianapolis are seeing poor reputations, potentially leading to negative impacts. As an example, in June, downtown Indianapolis prepared for potential blowback as dozens of shots were fired, with tourists in the line of fire.

“I would definitely say we’ve got a problem,” said Austin Lage, who was returning home from a weekend trip when he found his second-floor condominium in the Warehouse District riddled with bullets. “People are gonna start leaving the city, and you’re losing tax dollars, and when you’re losing tax dollars, it’s just gonna get worse and worse, and at what point do we do something about it as a community, the mayor, the city council, does it take a tourist dying?”

IMPD Deputy Chief of Operations Joshua Barker says the department is continuing to evolve in the use of data to help deal with crime in Indianapolis. He says they are confident that there aren’t bad neighborhoods in the city.

“I do believe there are bad actors and certain factors that lead to a disproportionate amount of specifically violent crime in very small areas throughout the city,” Barker said.

Taking a look at homicide data for the last eight years, it appears like the east side of Indianapolis has the greatest number of homicides. However, by taking a deeper look at the data, the Near Eastside neighborhood has the most recorded homicides since 2014 of all the city’s neighborhoods.

Another, relatively permanent subdivision of the city shows an area of 4,049 people that has experienced 30 homicides over the last 8 years. This is Census Tract 3308.03, located within the Far East Side neighborhood on Indy’s east side.

The U.S. Census Bureau says census tracts are small, relatively permanent statistical subdivisions of a county. They average about 4,000 residents each and are the official geographic entity for how the bureau publishes data.

By taking a look at the census tracts, you are able to gather information including violent crime rates, poverty rates, and unemployment rates among other publicly available data.

By looking at census tract-level data, we were able to identify three areas that have seen at least 25 homicides over the last eight years. We also found that every area in Indianapolis has seen at least one homicide.

The IMPD is working on something similar, taking an even closer look at the data to drive their resources.

“I can tell you at any part in the city where I know there is a focus of that disproportionate amount of crime, but what we struggle with is knowing how do we take that intersection, or how do we take that neighborhood that we know is experiencing that turmoil, and how do I sift down and dig down even further from that intersection, or neighborhood and find a specific block segment, or a specific apartment complex, or in some instances a specific address that is making that intersection, or that neighborhood glow red on our hot spot map,” Dept. Chief Barker said.

How Indianapolis City Leaders are addressing the issue

After breaking the record for homicides in the city during 2020, Indianapolis leaders are working to address public safety.

In June, Mayor Joe Hogsett announced more than $3 million in investments to go towards public safety needs. This includes:

  • $370,000 towards domestic violence reduction
  • $350,000 toward boosted mental health infrastructure
  • $390,000 toward juvenile intervention
  • $680,000 to expand staffing on community justice center staffing

Hogsett also suggested spending an additional $1.5 million to help IMPD enhance their intelligence work, upgrade technology, increase their data collection staff and improve accountability.

“This is not the first time you have heard your leadership on the IMPD under Chief Taylor talk about the importance of data and policing and how those two things are very integral to one another,” Dpt. Barker said. “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 cypher out the facts and data points that matter to help us make better-informed decisions to deploy our resources in an impactful way.”

On June 29, the Indianapolis City-County Council announced the first round in funding through the Council District Crime Prevention Grants Program. This program supports projects that show potential to reduce crime in Marion County.

“This program is the Council’s first attempt at an equitable distribution of resources using a data-driven approach that may reveal new opportunities for crime prevention moving forward,” said Leroy Robinson, Chair of the Council’s Public Safety & Criminal Justice Committee.

The Indianapolis Foundation, an affiliate of the Central Indiana Community Foundation is administering the program, which prioritized neighborhood-based, resident-driven, grassroots, and nontraditional organizations as a way of empowering neighborhoods to help build a safer community.  

“Grassroots organizations have a better understanding of the problems in their neighborhoods that contribute to crime, and we have the relationships within our community to make a difference,” said Peter Thawnghmung, President of Chin Community of Indiana.

Pastor James Jackson, the lead pastor of Fervent Prayer Church, has seen the violence in the city first-hand. On three occasions so far, the church has had to repair the roof after bullets penetrated it. He says you can throw money at the problem, but that does not fix it.

“If you can’t fix the problem with half a billion dollars, you’re not going to fix it with a billion dollars without understanding that there are people who live in this city, who live in other cities that choose to do what they do.” 

Pastor Jackson suggests that there needs to be more communication from the mayor’s office all the way down to these grassroots organizations to figure out what can be done to address the issue of violence in the city.

What are the next steps to address violent crime in Indy?

As the city remains on pace for another record-breaking homicide year, elected leaders, police and grassroots organizations continue to struggle to curb violence in Indy. The 2022 budget proposal has a significant focus on public safety. Mayor Joe Hogsett calls it an anti-violence strategy.

“It’s going to be help that’s on the way at levels and at a scope and at a scale that the city of Indianapolis has never before seen,” Hogsett said when asked whether help for residents is on the way.

Hogsett said the extra hundreds of millions of dollars enhanced his budget proposal to address crime.

“We probably wouldn’t be having these conversations,” Hogsett admitted. “We’d be having conversations about what our traditional operating budget in any particular year is able to afford and how we’re going to try to stretch dollars. I’m not saying we won’t be stretching these $420 million as far as we can stretch them, but to have that kind of federal support available to us over a three-year period of time can be a transformative moment.”

Dpt. Chief Barker says with finite resources to deal with an unchanging jurisdiction, they need to work together with community organizations to help prevent crime.

“Recognizing police officers can’t be everywhere, all the time, it is a true partnership in the sense that everybody that lives, works and plays in Indianapolis is a force multiplier for the public safety mission for our city,” Dpt. Chief Barker said. “When you see something that is out of the ordinary for you, that means it is probably out of the ordinary and we are asking partner with us in this mission to police Indianapolis so that we know that we are doing it the right way and that we are doing it in cooperation with the people that matter. And that’s the citizens of the city. 

Pastor Jackson says one way to move forward is to get people to sit down and discuss the problem.

“I think it would be great if the mayor of Indianapolis would call all of the leaders of civic organizations, particularly Black civic organizations, together along with clergy from all over the city. I’ve seen it done in the past. I think it would be great.” 

One piece of advice that Councillor Zach Adamson from City-County District 17 has is that people get involved in organizations in their neighborhoods. One program he recommended was CrimeWatch.

This program helps citizens reduce crime and the fear of crime in their community through neighborhood block clubs and educational programs. For more information about setting up a neighborhood block club and learn crime prevention techniques, visit the IMPD website.