As Indy’s murder rate increases, IMPD’s rate of solved cases falls

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (Nov. 30, 2015)-- With three killings this past weekend, Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department (IMPD) homicide detectives are now investigating their 137th murder of 2015, two more than in all of last year, while the clearance rate for cases solved nosedived to 61 percent.

“In my time in the Branch, and that would be about nineteen years, we’ve typically enjoyed somewhere between a 70 and 80 percent clearance rate,” said IMPD Homicide Lieutenant Roger Spurgeon.

Several factors have come together in the last quarter of the year to push the city’s murder tally past the 2014 total which was a cause for outrage as it outpaced other recent trends.

“We take every single crime seriously,” said Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry. “In this calendar year this office has had 34 murder and attempt murder trials in this year alone thus far.”

Curry felt the need to defend the performance of his office and investigators because of community rumblings about the relative speed with which detectives solved the killing of Amanda Blackburn, the pregnant wife of a pastor who was murdered during a home invasion robbery on the north side November 10.

Blackburn’s alleged killers left a trail of clues while the murderers of 10-year-old Deshaun Lee Swanson September 19 in South Butler/Tarkington have gone unnamed even though there were dozens of people present at the site of the shooting in the 3900 block of Graceland Avenue.

Homicide and aggravated assault detectives are frustrated by the lack of cooperation by victims, families, friends and the community when it comes to investigating killings and attacks.

“I may have circumstantial evidence to show that he was there but the only person that know that he shot you is you, and if you don’t come forward and tell me he shot you, than I don’t have enough to put him in jail,” said Sgt. Burgess Ricks who then stands by to watch family members and critics question IMPD’s commitment to finding all murderers in the same time frame as it took to solve the Blackburn case.

“The people who are out there rallying and saying those things on camera know that we know that’s just talk and in reality, ‘You’re not helping us and you’re not going to help us,’” he said.

Unlike a homicide detective, Ricks investigates cases where the victims survive and yet still refuse to help police find their attackers.

“Even if they have a bullet, even if they’re blind, even if they’re crippled and they know they’re going to be crippled after the doctor told them they were going to be crippled, they will not cooperate,” said Ricks who estimates 50 percent of his victims won’t talk. “Breaking that street code of silence is very very hard nowadays.”

Many of Ricks’ victims and witnesses are scared or anti-snitch or committed to seeking revenge or are compromised themselves due to their own criminal activities.

“At least once a month I have a person who was involved, either shot or involved with a shooting, or involved in that lifestyle where somebody was robbed or something like that, they end up being a victim later on,” he said. “Just last month I had one guy that had been shot three times that it was his fourth time being shot and the moment I walked in the room he said, ‘You know what’s up, Sergeant Ricks.’ (He) wasn’t going to talk.”

While the code of the street and the changing nature of murder, that is, younger, more violent offenders, heavily armed and recklessly targeting witnesses and non-combatants as well as their prime targets, has made it tougher to solve killings and failed attempts, Spurgeon said his detectives are just as dedicated to arresting the murderers of a pregnant pastor’s wife as they are those who pulled a trigger on a little boy at a family wake.

“It doesn’t matter to them,” he said. “All they want to do is to solve the case and get justice for the families and victims.”

The diminishing police force during the first five years of Mayor Greg Ballard’s administration has IMPD poised for a long comeback to replenish its patrol slots and free up experienced officers to move into the ranks of the detective branches which have shrunk from the retirements of veteran policemen and women.

“We have to have the manpower to be able to do it,” said Spurgeon.

And the cooperation of the community the police are trying to protect.

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