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City declares multi-front war on violent crime

December 16, 2017  | Indianapolis Recorder  |  Link to Article

 

New Indy crime plan
 

City leaders in Indianapolis have announced a new plan to reduce homicides in Indianapolis. (Photo/Downtownindy.org)

Like the Allied generals of World War II who came up with the plan to invade Normandy to help defeat the Nazis, Indianapolis leaders have developed a bold plan to defeat criminals who have contributed to an increase in crime across the city.

In the same manner as the Normandy invasion, the City’s plan is designed to attack criminals on multiple fronts while building more support and trust among allies: the police, community organizations and residents.

“Over the past decade, our city has witnessed a significant rise in the number of homicides,” Mayor Joe Hogsett said Monday during a press conference at the City-County Building, where he was joined by senior members of his administration and other city leaders.

Hogsett noted that the city’s annual homicide rate has not gone down in seven years. As of Monday, Indianapolis had tallied 148 criminal homicides in 2017, putting the city on track to surpass last year’s total of 149 homicides.

“Someone’s son, daughter, grandson, granddaughter, nephew or niece has lost their life as a result of violence on our streets,” Hogsett said. “It’s heartbreaking, it’s maddening, it’s senseless and it is unacceptable.”

So what will be done about it? Hogsett said he has an answer to that question.

This week, his administration and the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department (IMPD) announced a plan that will increase the number of police on the streets while also increasing support for community organizations that help people avoid having to use illegal options to survive. 

Boots on the ground

On the police side of the plan, new strategies will be implemented to make it more difficult for illegally armed felons to obtain and keep illegal guns. 

With his voice steady in firm resolve, Hosgett delivered a warning to those criminals and others causing violence: “It doesn’t matter who you are, how powerful you feel, how many guns you gather and how many people you try to scare: We are not intimidated,” Hogsett said. “To those bad actors, we are coming for you with a unified resolve and focused purpose, the likes of which our city has never seen before.”

Under a three-pronged effort to reduce gun-related violence, ballistics testing will be done at a faster rate and expanded to connect shell casings and firearms “in real time” to “serial shooters” in order to disrupt criminal activity and prevent future violence. In addition, IMPD will establish a crime gun intelligence center, and the department has adopted a “second degree of separation” approach that investigates not only those accused of gun crimes, but close associates as well. 

More police officers will be hired and trained to start with IMPD in 2019 in response to the fact that homicides spiked from 96 in 2012 to 125 in 2013 after a hiring freeze on new police officers, and those numbers have increased ever since. 

“We are on track to take a chronically and dangerously undermanned police department and staff it appropriately for its mission,” Hogsett said. “This is important not only because it ensures the safety of our officers, but it is critical to our plans to extend our community-based beat policing efforts next year.” 

The interactive beat patrol system that has been used by police since Hogsett became mayor will be expanded countywide. IMPD Chief Bryan Roach said this will be done because city leaders have noticed sharp reductions in crime in areas where the beat system is used. 

Last year, 15 new beats were created in areas with higher-than-average rates of violence, and all of those areas experienced a reduction in homicides, leading to a 29 percent decrease along with an overall drop in non-fatal shootings.  

“The message that sent to me and the mayor was that focused law enforcement efforts in small areas seem to work,” Roach said. 

Roach added that IMPD is working more closely with law enforcement partners such as the FBI in identifying people who attempt to fill voids left by the removal of organized criminal elements, especially following last month’s indictment of an Indianapolis group associated with numerous homicides and shootings. 

Bread on the tables

On the community side of the plan, the city will help obtain more funding for organizations that have been active in preventing crime and providing social services to keep people in need from turning to crime. 

City leaders estimate that approximately $1 million in funding and technical assistance will be distributed to various programs and services. However, the impact of their work will be reviewed by the City to ensure resources are being invested wisely. 

The City will also hire a Director of Community Violence Reduction to coordinate crime prevention efforts among law enforcement, neighborhoods and community groups. In addition, four individuals called “Indy Peace Makers” will be hired to provide “day-to-day” operational assistance to neighborhoods and community groups engaged in violence prevention.

District Councils will be created across the city to help facilitate the work of the Indianapolis Violence Reduction Partnership. 

Deputy Mayor David Hampton said the city wants to address what has been revealed as the major root causes of local crime.

“Poverty and food insecurity are issues directly affecting a lot of what drives crime,” said Hampton, who is also senior pastor of Light of the World Christian Church. 

Hampton said both parts of the plan would address changing realities among criminal elements on the streets; evidence from recent crimes and feedback from residents concerned about violence has shown that more violent criminals function on an individual basis instead of with organized groups such as gangs. 

“We are dealing with a generational change of street rules,” said Hampton. “We now have millennials who don’t operate with a criminal code, like the older ‘OG’s.’ So you don’t see established gangs and established leaders, but pockets of people who operate on their own.”

Funding for the crime plan presented this week must be approved by the City-County Council. It is likely that the plan will be introduced to the council during its Dec. 18 meeting, with a possible vote in January. 

Backup in the streets

Several community organizations immediately announced support for the crime plan. For one, members of the Faith in Indiana/IndyCAN coalition say they appreciate that Hosgett specifically stated that the plan has a unified focus that does not isolate certain groups of residents. 

“The mayor’s decision to step away from random sweeps that criminalize communities of color and instead target resources on that population will help restore trust and save lives,” said Derris Ross, a Faith in Indiana/IndyCAN organizer.

Ross said the city’s plan was announced following a year of meetings among Faith in Indiana/IndyCAN members, the mayor’s office and local youth.

Rev. Shannon MacVean Brown, co-chair of Faith in Indiana/IndyCAN, believes the announcement “affirms the sanctity of all life by reducing violence without fueling mass incarceration.”

Rev. Juard Barnes, pastor of Overcoming Church, said the city’s new strategy has been proven to work in cities across the country. 

“This strategy is about saying to our children, ‘We are against violence, but we are for you,’” said Barnes, whose church is located in Martindale-Brightwood, a neighborhood where crime prevention partnerships have led to a reduction in homicides. “It’s about giving them a real choice by having jobs in place and the resources they need to leave street life.”

Crime by the numbers

- Criminal homicides have increased over the past seven years, from 93 in 2010 to 149 in 2016.

- Murder rates increased the fastest during the period of time when IMPD’s staff decreased from 1,643 in 2010 to 1,535 in 2013 due to a hiring freeze and retirements. 

- According to the Marion County Public Health Department (MCPHD), violence is the leading cause of death for local youth 10–25 years old. 

The city’s answer 

- Expand successful beat policing, where officers coordinate crime prevention with residents and community groups

- Expand efforts to keep guns out of the hands of violent felons 

- Speed up results of tests on firearms used    in crimes

- Increase resources and support for community groups involved in crime prevention