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INDIANAPOLIS — As the 2022 homicide rate in Indianapolis begins to outpace the same time last year, a new group of a dozen ministers in the city has united in their fight against the violence. On Monday, the group was joined by Mayor Joe Hogsett for what he called their “urgent announcement.”

The Indianapolis Urban Pastors Coalition, joined by two city county council members, purports to represent “thousands” of parishioners and community members and said it would dedicate the opening week of its campaign against violence, “in fasting and prayer.”

“You should expect faith leaders to be focused on things of God and not on things of man,” said Rev. Brian Shobe.

Hogsett said that Indianapolis, through its $45 million commitment of American Recovery Act funds to community anti-violence programs over the next three years, was, in his opinion, dedicating more such federal money to the war on violence per capita than any other city.

FOX59 asked the mayor if he would be willing to identify any particular program that might show early promises of success so that the community could determine if his strategy of massive grassroots violence reduction spending was working.

“I hesitate to put any kind of date on it because one program may take a little bit longer to ramp up. Another program may take a little bit longer to see discernable success,” he said. “If things aren’t working in the programs that we have allocated moneys for, we need to pivot and make a change. By the same token, if we see success that wasn’t necessarily anticipated, then we also need to be able to invest more money into programs that are showing levels of success.”

The mayor said while he was opposed to Constitutional Carry legislation proposed at the Statehouse which would do away with permits to carry firearms, he would support tougher penalties for so-called straw purchasers, doing away with gun show loopholes and strengthening background checks.

When asked how their parishioners and community members would respond to tougher gun laws, members of the Indianapolis Urban Pastors Coalition backed off from taking a position despite the finding that gunshot wounds accounted for more than 85% of the homicides in Indianapolis last year.

“The use of guns and the reduction of the access and availability of guns is important but it is not only the elephant in the room, it’s the divider in the room,” said Rev. Shobe. “It’s the one thing in our society that is a 50-50 split because of fear. Rather than the fear, lets address the faith, the faith that we can help people make better decisions about purchasing guns because right now violence has overtaken and fear has overtaken our communities.”

Tuesday morning at the Statehouse, the Senate Corrections and Criminal Law Committee will begin hearing a handful of bills impacting policing and criminal justice reform in Marion County and across Indiana.

Those bills include bail reform and the participation of nonprofit entities like The Bail Project in the criminal justice system as well as electronic monitoring standards for offenders and defendants and two proposals that would directly impact IMPD: state support for police overtime costs and expanding the footprints and enforcement duties of additional agencies in downtown Indianapolis.

Mayor Hogsett said he’s not necessarily opposed to Senate Bill 7 which would permit Indiana State Police, Capitol Police and IUPUI Police to lend a hand patrolling the downtown area on a regular basis as troopers did on weekend nights last summer.

“I would be remiss as mayor if I didn’t say, ‘All hands on deck’ and to utilize any and all resources that we can,” he said. “Ultimately though, at the end of the day, I think what is going to make a difference is not simply adding more police officers, though ultimately that will, I think, give the people a perception of safety that is perhaps lacking in some areas, but I think what will make the difference is investment in crime reduction, crime prevention, crime intervention and crime disruption.”

“One of the many things that we are doing today is expanding our police force and putting more police out in the streets,” said Hogsett as he highlighted the community anti-violence funding commitment his office has made. “We are hiring, as we speak, violence interrupters and peacemakers, and I wish I could wave a magic wand and make a difference today, but we are working today, and we’ll be working tomorrow, and we’ll be working every single day for the rest of this year and over the course of the next three years.”

Hogsett’s $15 million per year commitment would carry through the end of 2024, a year after Indianapolis voters go to the polls in the next mayoral election.

IMPD finished 2021 with 1,650 officers, though its authorized strength is 1,743.

The mayor has budgeted Metro Police to employ 1,873 officers this year.

Last year IMPD brought on 130 new officers through its academy, but lost 139 officers to retirement and separation, some laterally transferring to other departments.

IMPD expects to train two classes of recruits this year.

The Police Civilian Merit Board last week approved 39 recruits to begin training next month.