INDIANAPOLIS — Shonna Majors, Mayor Joe Hogsett’s choice to serve as his initial Community Violence Reduction Director in the summer of 2018, has resigned.
Her last day on the job will be this coming Friday.
“Sometimes it’s just time, and I gave a lot of my life to this work late nights, early mornings, crime scenes, it’s a lot on your mental and it’s a lot on your family,” Majors told me as we took a walk through the neighborhoods of Haughville. “I’ve been here three-and-a-half years and I’ve helped a lot of people, a lot of organizations, and I think its time for me to deepen the work I’ve been doing.”
When Majors was hired, the city was on its way to recording an all-time annual high of 177 homicides.
Last year there were 245 homicides in Indianapolis and this year the city is on its way to topping that record.
I asked Majors if she felt her efforts in stopping violence were a success.
“Those numbers are heart-wrenching and I hate those numbers,” she said. “I hate that we couldn’t not get to all of those people, but the people that we were able to encourage, people who we were able to interface with, those people are still alive. They’re not in prison and they’re doing better than how we found them.”
Majors brought her grant writing expertise to a program that doled out $3 million a year to dozens of community anti-violence groups.
“From the outside looking in, I saw the crime prevention grants going to the same players every year, year after year, and there’s other organizations out here doing this work that actively need a chance for a level playing field,” said Majors, emphasizing the diversity in grant recipients and the enhanced accountability those groups face when it comes to spending city funds. “They split the money. They get half upfront, they get half in the middle if you’re doing what you proposed to do. I think adding that accountability was critical and narrowing the scope in which that money could be used for those funds, not just feel-good stuff that was going on before, but strategic and pointed at what the issue of the day is which is violence.”
Majors said she encountered a lot of “silos” during her three years on the job, trying to coordinate disparate groups with various funding and service priorities.
“Where we kind of went wrong was not getting the information out to the community in the beginning about the work was that we wanted to do. It was such a crisis it was just like, ‘Go out and do some stuff,’” she said. “I’d like to see a cohesive push with our mayor at the top of the pile pushing. I think everybody who is involved, meaning prosecutors, IMPD, whoever, funders, they all have to get on the same page that there’s one goal to decrease the violence in our city and what is your part and you do that part effectively and with fidelity and integrity.
“We have a lot of distractions. We have people who sit on high and watch and aren’t really contributing to the work and have things to say and that causes division and that’s unhealthy and that causes disruption in the work,” she said, “but sometimes when things don’t look as shiny as what you’re used to working with, it doesn’t go over well to give those things an opportunity, so going forward I hope there’s a more open mind and open dialog with everyone.”
Majors’ departure comes at a time when the city is about to invest $15 million a year for the next three years into community anti-violence programs.
“I was lamenting, and she was lamenting, now that we’ve got $420 million in American Rescue Plan money that’s going to enable us to scale up these programs in fundamental and transformative ways, it’s kind of sad that she’s missing all of that because she laid the foundation and she laid the groundwork for all of it,” said Mayor Hogsett. “She really was a passionate champion for standing up these programs, frankly, at a time when our resources were limited.”
Majors hopes her successors will also set aside smaller grants of $5000 – $10,000 for fledgling community anti-violence programs trying to get off the ground.
“There’s a lot of people who care and have good hearts and want to see this done and there’s some that made it too much about the money to get anything done,” she said. “I just pray that the money allows people to get on a level playing field have their voices have their ideas considered and try everything.”
Majors said she may consider offers to remain in Indianapolis working with community groups focused on reducing domestic violence.
Hogsett said the Office of Public Health and Safety will hire a pair of deputy directors to oversee the expanded community anti-crime grants program.