INDIANAPOLIS — After spending in excess of $10 million over the past five years on community crime prevention, the Hogsett administration took a new approach at the start of this year to fund violence interrupters who would go into the streets and the homes of Indianapolis and meet residents most in danger of being caught up in violent crime.
“We have up to six who are currently funded throughout the entire period of the grant,” said Dane Nutty, executive director of the Indy Public Safety Foundation, which oversees the $400,000 program. “Meeting folks where they’re at as opposed to asking folks to come to us, that may be at their house, that may be at a faith-based organization, that may be at wherever we can go to have a conversation with them.”
Hogsett’s Office of Public Health and Safety contracts with IPSF to administer the program which can employ violence interrupters with previous criminal records who have the knowledge and credibility to navigate Indianapolis’ sometimes dangerous streets.
“We gotta try new things,” said Nutty, one day after Indianapolis recorded its 102nd homicide of the year as killings are up 30% over last year’s record pace. “These are conflicts that are occurring throughout the city, maybe on social media, maybe in person, and interrupters can intervene in that process, and they can make sure folks have the resources they need to stop that retaliatory violence from happening.
“I can say that we’ve done 70 interventions,” said Nutty. “We focus on conflicts that could be social media conflicts or individual conflicts, and so our team has helped intervene in at least 70 conflicts that could have resulted in something down the road.”
Nutty admits it’s hard to prove on paper the program’s success in halting retaliatory shootings before they happen. He said interrupters refer families and residents involved in violence to support programs, and there are also funds that can be paid to potential offenders or victims who attempt to turn their lives around.
“We do have a good handful of fellows in the program who have met different goals that are each unique to them, and we have helped provide stipends to those individuals to help with transportation to work, to help make sure they have what they need in order to be successful, whether that’s food or transportation or housing.”
One man who said he was rejected in his attempts to help launch the program finds fault with its philosophy that violence is inevitable.
“The whole concept doesn’t make sense to invest $400,000 in visiting crime scenes and offering help after the fact,” said Anthoney Hampton, a former offender who has developed community programs in the south Butler-Tarkington neighborhood. “We know the city is full of retaliation murders. That’s not gonna stop. IMPD has to lock these cats up and get these cats off the street. Let the prison system be a violence interrupter.
“They’ve already committed a criminal act. Why would you want to have someone who has already fired into someone’s house still live in your community?”
Hampton said he also disagreed with some of the leadership involved in implementing the violence interrupter program.
“I understand they tried to bring the street element in to fight the street element,” he said. “That don’t work. Why not put people in front of young adults who have accomplished something?”
Lurenzo Johnson said he was a paid violence interrupter for five months but left the program over a lack of faith in its leadership.
“You can’t go out there with that ‘rah-rah’ because some tougher guys out there. Just be yourself. Just be a genuine dude,” said Johnson, recalling the success he shared with a handful of young people he mentored while serving in the program. “Most of my fellows been successful. None of thems been locked up since I been dealing with them. They haven’t dropped a body. They ain’t dropped. They’re not dead. They’re all consistently working.”
Johnson and his program K.I.D. Inc. and Hampton will be partnering with the Office of Public Health and Safety to launch a Friday night basketball league for 100 young people at the Bethel Park Family Center starting in June, about the same time Mayor Hogsett is expected to announce his summer violence reduction strategy with IMPD.
Johnson said he’s optimistic about the summer ahead but it’s still realistic to expect violence in the city may not subside.
“Some of those that’s engaged in that activity, man, you know how that’s gonna end up, but we need to start right now with the youth, the ones before they get into all that,” he said. “Even a rose blooms in the concrete.”
OPHS Director of Community Violence Reduction Shonna Majors issued the following statement regarding the violence interrupters program:
“The Office of Public Health and Safety works closely with partners throughout the city that address violence, including the Indy Public Safety Foundation’s interrupter program. Interrupters work on the ground to disrupt the cycle of violence as it is happening, identifying individuals who are most at risk of perpetrating violence. This program complements the larger goals of OPHS to address the root causes of crime through the City’s first-ever division specifically dedicated to food issues, housing efforts, and ongoing investments in community-based organizations. We believe that through these collaborations, we can make a meaningful, long-term impact on violence in Indianapolis.“