INDIANAPOLIS — At 10.6 homicides per 100,000 residents, Indianapolis’ rate of intentional murder is greater than that of Chicago and several other large, regional U.S. cities.
When compared with homicide rates from seven other cities as of May 19, Indianapolis was firmly in the middle of the pack.
“The statistics you cite for Indianapolis are right in the middle of the group of cities that we looked at with respect to the increase from 2019-2020,” said Rick Rosenfeld, a criminology professor at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, “and the increase from the first quarter 2020 to the increase in the first quarter of the current year, [what it] means is Indianapolis has had a very sizable increase in homicide now running nearly two years.”
Monday afternoon, Indianapolis recorded its 102nd homicide for the year.
In 2020’s record year for homicides, Indianapolis didn’t hit the triple digit mark until mid-June and didn’t reach that level until late August in 2019.
Right now, Indianapolis’ homicide rate is roughly 30% higher than a year ago and is statistically on a path to approach 300 homicides for 2021.
“Our city has really gone past the tipping point of violence that is surging in our community,” said Fraternal Order of Police #86 President Rick Snyder. “Not only are we seeing record-shattering levels of violence for our city, but when you do that comparative analysis, especially with other cities like our neighbors to the north, you really get a feel for the context in which the numbers make more sense.”
As of May 19, these were the numbers of homicides per 100,000 residents in eight large regional cities:
- ST. LOUIS — 24.5
- MEMPHIS — 15.9
- CLEVELAND — 14.6
- LOUISVILLE — 10.73
- INDIANAPOLIS — 10.6
- CHICAGO — 8
- COLUMBUS — 8
- NASHVILLE — 7.3
Indianapolis’ 2021 total includes 18 deaths related to three mass killings, and since last week when that data was compiled, police have investigated two double homicides.
“Homicide is clearly the more important measure of public safety, but nobody wants their home burgled, nobody wants their car stolen, and these are far more voluminous crimes, and they’ve been going down at the same time that the homicide rate has been increasing,” said Rosenfeld. “The very sharp and sizable increases in homicide and gun assault, however, are more difficult to explain.”
While Indianapolis has shown a steady downward trend in reported felony crimes, the number of homicides and non-fatal shootings have increased for more than two years.
“We have a broken system of criminal justice that is not holding known offenders accountable at the time, and then we see that they repeat these cycles of violence,” said Snyder. “We’re seeing repeat known convicted violent felony offenders being cycled right back out into the neighborhoods.”
Earlier this year, Marion County Prosecutor Ryan Mears told FOX59 that many murder suspects are first-time offenders or have low-level criminal records that would not necessarily indicate the potential for extreme violence.
“If you look at some of the other people who are involved in criminal homicides or the criminal justice system who are currently charged with criminal homicides, we’re not seeing the terrible, lengthy 10-page criminal history of the people that we are now charging with murder,” said Mears, “and for whatever reason, for first offenses and second offenses, we’re seeing some pretty significant crimes.”
Rosenfeld said that the impact of last year’s nationwide protests in support of police reform could be a potential factor in the increasing homicide rate.
“When we’re trying to figure out what is behind this big increase in violence,” he said, “I don’t think we should discount what is happening to the relationship between the police and at least certain of the communities they serve in our cities.
“It’s not simply what’s going on with the police. It’s what’s happening within the communities during a period of very intense and widespread protests against police violence,” continued Rosenfeld. “The argument here is that those communities which have always had a somewhat fraught relationship with the local police department, in those communities the relationship has also deteriorated even further to the point that people are even less likely to contact the police with information about crime, less likely to cooperate with the police in investigations, more likely to take matters into their own hands and solve problems, and that has contributed to the increase in violence.”
Snyder called on Mayor Joe Hogsett to convene a summit of community, criminal justice and law enforcement leaders to determine where gaps in the system may fail to identify or hold accountable potentially violent offenders.
“He’s a former federal prosecutor. He knows them as well as anyone else, and point to those people who play a role in that and say, ‘I can’t tell the judges what to do, I can’t tell the prosecutor what to do, but what I can tell you is, my City-County controller controls your budget and your funding, and I am highly recommending that you fix this,’” said Snyder, paraphrasing Hogsett’s potential address to the criminal justice partners, “and that’s the great dilemma that we’re in. No one wants to come to the table and say that there is a problem here because I think invariably judges, prosecutors, public defenders, people that play a role in this process, they fear that they might be viewed as a cause for this.”
According to an internal email obtained by FOX59, last week IMPD advised law enforcement officials throughout Marion County that its electronic Records Management System, which provides access to the data officers depend on during investigations, is faulty and, after more than two years in service, the city’s outside contractor will soon begin to upgrade the system.
“Let’s get a database that will actually track the criminal conviction histories of the victims. We’re gonna know the victim every time, but also the suspects when they’re known,” said Snyder, “and we’re confident that residents will quickly see what our officers know that is one or both of those parties could not have been there for that latest act of violence to have occurred if one or both could have been held accountable for a bad act.”
Traditionally, IMPD has reported than more than 70% of its victims and perpetrators have previous criminal records.
“The notion that a summit of some sort it going to be the answer is inadequate,” Mayor Hogsett told FOX59 last week. “Whether it be in data, whether it be in force and patrols, whether it be frankly creating new programs reaching out to newer and more community groups, we constantly analyze police tactics, and we will continue to do that.”
Hogsett pointed out that his office has overseen the granting and administration of more than $10 million in funding and programs dedicated to curbing violent crime over the last five years.
“We are doing literally everything that we possibly can, adopting best practices from other communities where some measure of success has occurred, and we will continue and are committed to continuing to do that,” said the Mayor. “With the investments that we’re making in law enforcement, with the millions of dollars each year that the City-County Council appropriates to neighborhood-based anti-violence outreach, to the peacemakers in our violence reduction programs, we will make a difference. We can turn this around.”
Earlier this year, one of those street ambassadors was shot to death delivering anti-violence handbills in a troubled east side apartment complex, and a high-profile trainer of so-called violence interrupters was recently separated from the program due to social media messages the administrators found threatening.
“We have not been static in our approach. We have changed where change is necessary, and I do believe that there are changes being considered at the federal level. I would encourage changes be considered at the state level. Common sense changes that an overwhelming majority of the people of this country support in terms of greater background checks, in terms of purchasing of guns,” said Hogsett, lamenting the inability of local entities to enact firearms control measures. “The Indiana General Assembly prohibits local units of government from doing anything as it relates to the mindless menace of violence that is stricter than what state law provides.”
Hogsett’s summer violence reduction plan, already two weeks beyond its original launch date, will be unveiled in early June.
“We are continuing to put the finishing touches on that,” said the mayor. “We have delayed announcing that by several weeks because we continue to talk to even more community groups, community stakeholders, who want an opportunity to be heard, who have ideas that they want us to consider and, so in a few short weeks, I think we’ll be announcing our comprehensive summer strategy.”
IMPD Chief Randal Taylor told FOX59 that the new summer plan will change the approach and schedules of teams of officers assigned to monitor and patrol communities with the statistically greatest propensity for violence.
During a memorial and balloon release Sunday for her slain brother, Malik Parks — homicide victim #88 for 2021 — Anastasia Hatfield was asked what she would tell the mayor to include in his summer violence reduction announcement.
“He needs to get the guns off the street first,” she said. “Also, he needs to put if not more police then more patrols.”
Hogsett has said IMPD is expanding its community and beat policing strategy, has gained Statehouse support for taking its Crime Gun Intelligence Center model for tracking violent felons and investigating firearms crimes to surrounding central Indiana communities and is slowly building the size of the police force despite increasing rates of retirement and separation and calls from community activists to defund the department.