INDIANAPOLIS — Historic levels of violence in Indianapolis have sparked a dramatic change to the city’s crime-fighting efforts.
Over just the last few weeks, 35 new peacemakers have started working to reduce violence.
Peacemakers will work to first identify high-risk individuals and provide short and long-term assistance. That will include finding employment, housing, mentorship, and other resources.
The peacemakers come from a variety of backgrounds.
The sale of a gun from the trunk of a car on Warren Avenue quickly turned into an attempted robbery and shooting in January 2017.
“I was shot, and it was the closest I ever came to death. For me that was a chain breaker,” said Daniel Mallory.
Court records show Mallory recovered from his injuries and pleaded guilty to robbery, before turning his life around and being hired as one of Indy’s 35 new peacemakers.
“I was part of the problem. Now I want to be part of the solution,” said Mallory.
“We’re building trust and hope,” said Lauren Rodriguez with the Office of Public Health and Safety.
$37 million in federal money from the American Rescue Plan Act will fund the program for three years.
Rodriguez explains the city’s peacemakers have been divided into three jobs. Those include street-level violence interrupters, outreach workers, and one-on-one life coaches.
Interrupters work to stop a conflict that has the potential to turn deadly immediately before or while a crime is happening, including retaliatory violence.
Outreach workers assess whether an individuals’ risk factors—including employment status, age, education level, and prior criminal justice involvement—require more intense, personalized support.
Life coaches work with clients up to 18 months to develop a “Life Plan” away from violent crime.
“Those are critical messengers. Those individuals have either lived the life or been a part of the life before and have reformed,” said Rodriguez.
Those doing outreach will then work within grassroots organizations to help build their capacity and identify any gaps in service.
The goal to have 50 peacemakers by the end of this year is a big change from 2018, when the mayor introduced the city’s first two peacemakers.
“We had a very limited budget, so we had a very limited staff,” said Rodriguez.
Of course, even three years ago the idea of peacemakers was nothing new.
The Indianapolis Ten Point Coalition began using ex-offenders as outreach workers in hot spot neighborhoods as far back as 1999.
“Cities that have boots on the ground street intervention initiatives do a better job of reducing violence.”Reverend Charles Harrison, Ten Point Coalition.
While reverend Harrison’s group currently receives only a fraction of the funding they saw in years past, he supports the city’s expanded efforts.
“The more peacemakers the city puts on the streets, if they’re strategic about it, I think it will help,” said Harrison.
The new peacemakers were all trained by the National Institute for Criminal Justice Reform, which also helped develop Indy’s violence reduction strategy.
“It’s really about developing a trusting and positive relationship,” said David Muhammad with the National Institute for Criminal Justice Reform.
Muhammad says his group analyzed every shooting in Indianapolis over two years to determine what caused the violence and identify those at most in need of intervention.
Because a small number of people drive a majority of the violence, the city’s focus is on the people most likely to be involved in violence.
“This is a data-driven approach to reduce gun violence, so really understanding why shootings occur,” said Muhammad.
Using that data, but employing just a handful of peacemakers last year, the city claims they interrupted 773 acts of violence.
After doing some digging on those numbers, city leaders say last year the city tracked those interruptions by paper.
Moving forward the city will release digital monthly summaries, but because each individual report contains sensitive information, they won’t be publicly available, making it difficult to verify the exact count.
“You don’t know if somebody is going to pull a trigger or how many times, but we do know we’ve engaged with those individuals and de-escalated the situation to where they didn’t use a gun,” said Rodriguez.
Still, the city ended 2021 with a record 271 homicides and more than 700 non-fatal shootings.
Everyone knows the success of the peacemakers program will be judged on whether those numbers dramatically decrease over the next three years.
The program did run into an early stumble when one of the new violence interrupters, Jeff Walker, was arrested and charged last month with unlawful possession of a firearm and drug-related charges.