INDIANAPOLIS, Ind.— While Indianapolis is on pace to match its deadliest year, calls to help witnesses of crime are gaining more attention. IMPD leaders said they’re trying to gain more resources in hopes there’s more cooperation to help solve crimes.
“There’s thousands of people out there hurting as a result of someone losing their life by another, by violent means it’s unacceptable,” Deputy Chief Chris Bailey said.
IMPD said so far this year there have been 141 homicides (120 were murders). In 2016, there were 172 homicides (150 were murders) and in 2015 there were 158 homicides (144 were murders). This year, 38.3 percent of homicide cases have been cleared so far. That’s down from 59.88 percent of cases in 2016 and 65.19 percent in 2015. Bailey said those numbers can be misleading, though, as it can take 6-8 months to solve a case at times.
“Clearance rate is an arrest rate, right, that’s where we’ve cleared a case. That’s not bringing the family justice, justice is when we get a conviction,” Bailey said.
Bailey said some of the hurdles they run into in addition to lack of evidence or witnesses, include witnesses coming forward, and witnesses testifying. He points to apathy, some witnesses involved in illegal activity, a culture of not cooperating with police and a fear factor.
“Henry Nunn is the last true witness that I can recall that has been killed as a result of what they did and I said it before, I’ll say it again, Henry Nunn is my hero,” Bailey said. “This is a man who had moral courage to stand up and do the right thing and say this is my neighborhood, you’re not going to push me out of here, you’re not gonna do these things in my neighborhood and he had the courage to stand up and testify and put people away. Ultimately it cost him his life,” Bailey said.
Bailey said Nunn turned down moving, but the case of Nunn’s murder in 2015 is one that sticks with him and others, including Pastor David Greene Sr.
“Deeply concerned about our witness protection, lack of witness protection here in Marion County,” Greene, senior pastor at Purpose of Life Ministries, said.
Greene is also the president of Concerned Clergy of Indianapolis, and sometimes he says a bridge between witnesses and police. He said more funding is needed to help witnesses of crime.
“Many times they’re concerned about their own welfare and safety and those that who are parents, etcetera, they have to take a look at their whole family and say now if I step forward if I get killed or injured and I can’t go to work, what happens,” Greene said.
The number of homicides and the clearance rates were what some Indianapolis city county councilors called a “wake-up call.”
“I think this it’s probably one piece of a larger problem that we’re seeing. Clearly this is one component we need to be looking at,” Councilor Scott Kreider said. “Certainly fear is one of the probably reasons people are not testifying.”
He and Councilor Jeff Coats said they’re researching and trying to see what other municipalities and state governments are doing. Some state lawmakers also said they’re planning to look at the issue.
“It’s obvious we’re not doing enough, what little we are doing it’s obvious that the city and county governments are not doing enough here in Indianapolis,” Councilor Jeff Coats said.
Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry said he brought the issue to the attention of the city county council during a committee meeting in August.
He wrote in part on Facebook, “We should be careful not to simply make this problem a political talking point and instead consider what real differences we can make. The issues does not “demand our attention.” It has our attention with nearly every woman, man and child who walks through our door.”
IMPD said though it doesn’t have a line item in its budget for witness protection, and did not request money for it in next year’s budget, it already has some resources and is looking at finding more.
“We have resources, we’ve had resources. We moved someone a couple weeks ago, we attempted to move another person, they declined our services. Luckily we have a small amount of money through some grants,” Bailey said. “We’re working with counselors and the prosecutor’s office and through our grant people to try to identify long term funding.”
Bailey said they use partnerships with the business community, housing authority, the victim’s assistance unit and a Project Safe Neighborhood Grant. It’s less than $10,000, though, and can be restricted by location.
He said witness assistance isn’t the problem, witness cooperation is the bigger problem.
“People aren’t asking for it, they’re not coming and saying I’ll testify if you can move and maybe that’s our fault because they know nothing exists,” Bailey said.
Bailey said they’re looking into grant opportunities, trying to move the boundaries for the Project Safe Neighborhood grant, researching other cities and increasing staff in the homicide branch. He also said IMPD Chief Bryan Roach sent a memo to all major city chiefs asking for a memo on their processes.
“We care. We want people to come forward, we want to do everything we can to try to protect witnesses and victims who want to do the right thing, who want to have the moral courage to stand up, take back their communities, say they've had enough because this is unacceptable in our city. We can't continue to have this number go up,” Bailey said.