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INDIANAPOLIS — Members of the community have their own opinions when it comes to solutions needed to reduce crime. They were able to share those during a forum held at Fervent Prayer Church on Indy’s far east side.

“We want to make sure we get to know each other before bad things happen. When bad things happen it’s difficult to get to know people,” said Rev. James Jackson, lead pastor at Fervent Prayer Church.

As part of the first ‘Pizza with the Police and Pastors’ event, which was streamed online to allow for more participation, residents were invited to join members of IMPD and local clergy to discuss the steps they believe need take place in order to reduce crime.

The City of Indianapolis’ Deputy Mayor of Neighborhood Engagement, Judith Thomas, was invited to provide opening remarks during Monday’s event, which lasted for nearly two hours.

“I’ve been very blessed to be in a position as deputy mayor in a time like this, in a time where a lot of us are hurting in every way, challenges that we’re having in every city, but what’s exciting is that we’re all coming together,” said Thomas. “What’s exciting is that we want to connect, and we want to see a better city, and we want to reduce violence.”

Between money allocated through American Rescue Plan Act funding and some grants provided to smaller nonprofits and grassroots organizations focused in violence reduction and prevention, Thomas said the city is looking at ways to connect more people involved in these efforts with the resources to sustain their programs longterm.

“Once that funding is gone after 2024, we have to keep it going, and how do we do that as a city and how do we look at reaching out to each other from a mental health standpoint, from an empowerment standpoint, from job opportunities and education,” said Thomas. “So, programs and events like this where the police and pastors and the community come together are crucial to our success and we have to be working together continuously.”

Thomas was joined at the discussion by members of IMPD leadership, including district commanders, Assistant Chief Chris Bailey, Deputy Chief of Criminal Investigations, Kendale Adams, as well as members of the Community Engagement and Outreach Bureau. In addition to department staff, clergy from various congregations joined, along with residents and advocates from nonprofits across the city.

Commander Ida Williams of IMPD’s Community Engagement and Outreach Bureau said Monday’s event was about the next steps as a community and what “we all can do” as individuals.

“We didn’t know exactly what to expect, other than the fact that it was important for us as police officers to just come out and have meaningful dialogue with the community and really get another feel of what they wanted and expected from us and then how do we make our community safer,” said Williams.

Community conversation: weighing in on ways to reduce crime

Organizers posed one question in particular to attendees: “what can I personally do to reduce crime?”

One person after another approached the podium, with some expressing their answer to the question.

Donald Martin, owner of Sweet Treats on Martin Street said, “I’m gonna be real, I appreciate what you guys do, but I cannot rely on you just for the community. It’s gonna take me that lives in this community to make it better.”

Martin said his family recently opened their business on the far east side of Indy, hoping to bring a safe place for the community to come and get items you would get at a convenience store, for less money, while also building relationships with their community.

“We do understand it takes more than just the police or the pastors, but actually living in this community, I see the value system,” said Martin. “You do the best that you can do, but it’s my responsibility, the person that lives in this community, to make sure the community runs the way it needs to be.”

“What we do outside of our job is how we help the community,” said Erik Davenport, who’s been involved in various violence reduction efforts within the community. “If you’re not in a community job, you can still do community work.”

Improving police-community relationships

Some didn’t address the question specifically, but rather, discussed the improvements and change they hope to see in the community in the efforts towards reducing crime. Several speakers said they hope to see the relationships between police and the community continue to improve.

“Let’s have that conversation and let’s start from the ground up and let’s build from the ground up,” said Rev. Elder Lionel Rush, president with the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance.

“Take some of our younger officers who are from the neighborhoods that are serving and get them out in the community to deal directly with the community,” said Davenport.

“I really, really deeply appreciate what you all are doing because we need more of this, because yes we need personal responsibility, but we always have to be truthful and just explicit in how we approach this situation if we want to see lasting change,” said Vernon Williams.

As part of their calls to improve police-community relationships, at least one member of the community called on IMPD, asking the department to continue its efforts to make sure leadership is diverse.

“I want to see more women and more blacks, sergeants and lieutenants,” said Rush.

“We’ve seen a lot of progression when it comes to the promotion of minorities, but we’re not happy there, we’re going to continue to work until just like our police department should be reflective of our community, so should our rank when it comes to sergeants, lieutenants and captains,” said Williams.

Improving relationships with neighbors

Pastor Derrick Jefferson of the Jerusalem Temple Apostolic Faith Assembly, said he has lost 17 family members in the last five years in homicides across the city.

“I know the pain of losing someone,” said Jefferson.

He believes people need to connect with neighbors and learn what is going on and work to also strengthen those relationships within the community.

Jefferson said, “I will employ every mother; father go back to the basics. It starts in your home. You can’t blame the police officer; you can’t blame the church if they don’t have the proper training, they’re in trouble. Reach your brother, your sister, your nephew and find out what’s going on. You can’t blame them for doing their job.”

On top of building and strengthening relationships within the community, and between the community and police, attendees also called for accountability from city leaders.

“Those that are in office stop being scared, stop putting law enforcement in front of your problems. Period,” said James Wilson, founder of Circle Up Indy.

Connecting with resources, educating on existing resources

Several speakers during Monday’s discussion expressed the importance of making sure the community is not only aware of resources and programs that exist in the community, but also ways that they can connect to them.

Davenport said, “Let’s look at what we can do to build relationships to get those resources out there. If you are a smaller grassroots organization that really does good work, those smaller entities, we want to help you build capacity, utilize you, get you in those channels, so we can help get what you’re doing in the community.”

DeAndra Dycus, founder and executive director of Purpose 4 My Pain, said she always hears people claim there are not enough resources for the youth when she attends meetings or events in the community.

“They have things for the youth to do, it’s just having access to that type of information. I know that’s not necessarily the police department’s job, but maybe for you all to be in the know of those types of resources to share with families because there’s a lot to do,” said Dycus. “You just have to get people to show up. You have to get the parents engaged and the youth engaged and want to come out.”

Dycus also added, she believes it’s important when thinking about the impact parents have in ways to reduce violence, that the events created are taking a holistic approach, focusing on families as a whole, not just youth.

Danyette Smith, a domestic violence survivor and founder of Silent No More, who now serves as the city’s director of domestic violence programming, was in attendance and weighed in on Monday’s discussion regarding resources and training.

“One of the things that I want to pose to IMPD is having more conversations around domestic violence with those who solely work in the domestic violence realm as well as making sure our officers that are in the streets understand what’s going on in the community and understand what’s going on in the area outside of those gun-related incidents,” said Smith.

Smith said it is important that there is training to recognize domestic violence, the mindset, and how far it can go.

Organizers of Monday’s event encouraged attendees to exchange contact information if they chose to do so, and several of the speakers offered theirs publicly to encourage more communication within the community.

Moving forward in efforts to reduce crime

As conversations and efforts to reduce crime continue from grassroots organizations, to the police department, pastors, and community members taking a stance against violence, numbers in several areas are showing signs of promise.

Year to date, data from IMPD shows overall homicides are down 23.21% from where they were in 2021. Murders are also down more than 26%.

There have been 43 homicides in 2022, including 41 murders. In 2021, during the same time period, there had been 56 homicides, which were all murders.

Nonfatal shootings from the start of the year through March 25 are down in 2022 compared to the same time period in 2021, by 23.4%, according to police.

By March 25, 2021, there had been 145 nonfatal shooting incidents logged since the start of the year. Since the beginning of 2022, there have been 111 across the city, IMPD said.

Still, Commander Williams said, one homicide or shooting that injures a resident is too many, and she’s hopeful that the conversations between the community, clergy and police will continue to help move Indy forward in its progress towards reducing crime.

“It’s all about positive dialogue, because we don’t have all the answers, right, it’s just like solving crime or recruiting we need everyone to come together to help us solve crime or recruit,” said Williams. “I do want to see more of us continue this meaningful dialogue so we can move the needle forward and make our streets and the community safer.”

“We all want the same thing. We are all headed in the same direction; it’s just everybody might be trying to get there in a different way,” said Jackson.