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Fighting Crime at the Grass Roots

August 16, 2012 | Indianapolis Star | Link to Article

Crime prevention efforts at the grass-roots level are not new to Indianapolis. Nor is the difficulty of sustaining those initiatives against the pressures of time and money.

The latest response to the violence that plagues the city is also one of the more ambitious. It will need every bit of the enthusiasm shown at its launching, given the financial realities facing law enforcement and other city services.

Ceasefire, unveiled at a Westside meeting Tuesday that drew about 200 residents, is a carrot-and-stick approach to wrongdoers that's been tried in other cities -- and in Indianapolis in the 1990s -- with success.

The sponsor this time is the Indianapolis Congregation Action Network, better known as IndyCAN, a new coalition of about 30 houses of worship that seeks to tie together a broad range of quality-of-life issues, from crime to education to mass transit.

Through Ceasefire, known criminals and their associates would be offered a choice: support services for living straight, such as education and job placement; or targeting by police.

Making it work on any appreciable scale will require considerable volunteer hours and some paid staff -- that is, a project director and outreach caseworkers. IndyCAN sees itself as an intermediary, hoping to find grants from various sources but also looking for help in the city budget. Some City-County Council members, including President Maggie Lewis, are in favor; but the budget is in such dire shape that even policing is in for a hit.

IndyCAN's case is that the city will be money ahead by funding a program that will use anti-crime resources more efficiently by coordinating the efforts of law enforcement, other agencies and private partners such as the Ten-Point Coalition.

"It's not a huge expenditure," says Alex Slabosky, an IndyCAN leader. "We're asking for a minimal investment to make what we already have work better."

Ceasefire, as advertised, seems worthy of a stake, both public and private. But the support need not be simply financial. The challenge for such grassroots efforts is to maintain momentum past the early stages, and that's where the city's guidance and cooperation can help turn good intentions into sustained results.