INDIANAPOLIS, Ind.-- There was a time, decades ago, when Richard Riding remembers the area of Oak Tree Apartments south of East 42nd Street on Post Road was a desirable community, especially for soldiers who served at nearby Fort Benjamin Harrison.
“Ghost town,” observed the retired Allison Transmission employee as he walked along the North Post Road sidewalk and spotted a chained gate blocking the driveway into boarded up and abandoned buildings where kids and families and people with jobs used to live. “I would like the city or somebody get it and redo it, take it over, pick it up and make it look nice 'cause all it's doing is making everything look bad.”
That isn’t likely, said city officials, as the site’s London-based owner wants to sell the property for $5 million, though it was purchased for less than half that a few years ago before it totally deteriorated and was shut down by a Marion County Health Department order.
A ride in the front seat of Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department (IMPD) Officer Justin Henry’s patrol car gives a guided tour to the despair and disrepair that plagues several of the multiple-family housing sites that call IMPD’s Beat 75 home.
“Town and Terrace. When you first drive through here your first impression is, ‘Wow,’” said Henry as he wheeled past shuttered buildings alongside occupied units and those with caved in roofs and boarded up windows. “’There’s a lot of vacant residences over here.’
“We’ve actually recovered a lot of stolen vehicles back here,” said Henry while guiding his car around rutted pavement into a cul-de-sac which literally left no way out. “A lot of time we try to venture back here because we know a lot of people know this area is kind of secluded and kind of tucked away and so a lot of things do transpire back here.”
Ironically, the city owns approximately 70 of the abandoned condominium units, almost half of the total on the site, though many of the others remain in private hands and uninhabitable.
Officials have tried to force improvements, or at least demolition, on the homeowner’s association but failed as lawsuits and counter lawsuits have been filed.
“I know IMPD has had quite a bit of involvement and presence in the area recently due to criminal activity and other matters,” said Dimitri Kyser of the Department of Business & Neighborhood Services. “When you have vacant abandoned units, criminal activity does take place.”
Kyser said the city is evolving its strategy to bring pressure on property owners to either clean up or sell out.
“We assess civil penalties, tax liens,” he said. “Those violations do pile up. They do need to pay violation citations fees as well as the civil penalties. Those things add up.
“Whether that goes into a tax sale or goes to a surplus sale and it moves into the hands of responsible property owners if property owners aren’t doing what they need to do.
“I would say that we have a significant number of property owners that aren’t in state as well as not in the U.S.”
Just a minute away from the unmarked entrance to Town and Terrace, a tax sale sign looms in front of the 42nd Street Studios apartments.
A new owner, or even a demolition order, would please officer Henry who finds himself searching for suspects who sneak-and-peak among the ruins of empty properties.
“Say for instance I’m following someone in a stolen vehicle, they lead us on a chase, they turn into one of these apartment complexes, they hop out, they take out on foot, they know because they live in this area, they know where to go, where the fence line is open, what booby traps may be set up.”
Henry pointed to a gap in a fence connecting the backside of Town and Terrace with a neighboring complex.
“And that’s probably not the only hole that’s in that fence line there.”
In the wake of five murders this year connected to the 42nd & Post community and the discovery of teenager Trevon Mann’s body in an abandoned apartment last week and the arrest of two men for allegedly shooting at an undercover officer Tuesday, IMPD has flooded Henry’s patrol area with more police, both the kind you can spot and the ones you can’t.
“We’ve had a lot more additional officers that have been allocated to this particular area and that’s paying off tremendously. It pays off tremendously because it gives us a more visible presence,” said Henry.
Henry said officers are making more traffic stops and finding more guns and information related to the deadly violence in the area.
“If I’m actually out here participating in the crime that’s going on around here, I’m for sure gonna spread word, ‘Hey, there’s a lot more officers out here. They’re actually out here stopping a lot more cars, they’re tagging vehicles, they’re towing vehicles, something’s going on out here. Maybe we need to calm down or stop what we’re doing,’” said Henry.
The six-year veteran said perhaps the strategy is working because his run load, the number of times a day he’s called out for help, is going down.