INDIANAPOLIS — With the city on pace for another year of record homicides, CBS4 News Anchor and Investigative Reporter Angela Brauer sat down with Mayor Joe Hogsett for a one-on-one interview.
The conversation followed a CBS4 investigation showing Indianapolis has spent nearly $12 million since 2017 to assist violence-reduction programs. The total spent on anti-violence and public safety initiatives in the city since 2017 totals $2.2 billion.
Here’s what the mayor had to say about why homicide rates are increasing, where anti-violence funds are going and what kind of results we’ve seen from these investments.
CBS4’s Angela Brauer: The crime has not slowed down. That’s no secret at this point. What would you tell your constituents, the people of Indianapolis? What would you say is the root cause of rising homicide rates and rising crime?
Mayor Joe Hogsett: Indianapolis just like every other community in our country that has been profoundly impacted by COVID-19. The number of homicides in the city of Indianapolis started to decline in 2019 for the first time in 20, or in ten years. I attribute that to many of the investments we were making in the first three years of the administration and we were proud that – at least according to that metric – progress was being made. Then comes March of 2020 and every major urban area in the country is experiencing record levels of homicides. So, it’s not just COVID alone, but it has been enormously accelerated by COVID. It’s multi-generational poverty. Its lack of opportunity in too many neighborhoods, inadequate educational opportunities for young people, and really – frankly – educational opportunities for people of all ages, the changing dynamic of the economy. These things combined lead us to these numbers and that is why as part of our budgeting process for this coming year, we’re using monies that would not otherwise be available to us. With the American Rescue Plan in record amounts in the next three years alone, $166 million has been appropriated by the city-county council to go to crime, gun and anti-violence initiatives.
Brauer: I want to focus in on what you just listed. You mentioned a lot of is generational. When we’re looking at the list of these anti-violence grants, though, you’re giving a very large portion of that to the Indianapolis Public Safety Foundation, for example who has admitted, a lot of that money just goes back into our first responders. There are people out there asking why you wouldn’t give more money to, let’s say, Big Brothers Big Sisters who only got $134,000 since 2012.
Hogsett: I think the commitments we have been making to organizations throughout the city have been significant in record numbers and specifically, with respect to your question, there is absolutely nothing I can say that is not accurate when we have put a lot of money into more police and greater opportunities for law enforcement, which is reactive by its very nature but what I think you’re going to see in the next three years, is an unprecedented amount of money, $161 million, going into largely proactive crime prevention initiatives.
Brauer: What promises would you make to the city of Indianapolis and specifically to victims’ families?
Hogsett: I think we’re doing everything that we possibly can to bring greater peace and safety to every neighborhood in the city of Indianapolis. Most neighborhoods that experience an unprecedented level of crime we are focusing on. We hope the types of investments we are making, with groups like the ones we highlighted today, are making a real difference. One of the challenges I have and frankly, all these groups share these challenges, it’s very difficult to prove a negative. When a crime is prevented, when a crime is interrupted, when a crime is avoided, when gun violence is halted before it happens, that is significant but it’s very different to prove that that has actually happened. I understand why the people focus on one metric and one metric alone, and that is the number of homicides. The truth is, we as a city are not alone in that regard. Every major urban area in the country is experiencing it. We’re trying to get out in front of it. We don’t want to be a follower. We want to be a leader.
Brauer: How do you as a mayor quantify or measure the success of all these investments so far?
Hogsett: I know that the folks in the media and the public as a whole focus on gun violence specifically and on homicides, but there are other ways to judge the success of our anti-violence programs and that is the number of kids that graduate from programs like VOICES and are served meaningfully. The kinds of work that Greg Keesling at Recycle Force does in taking people that are ex-offenders and giving them meaningful work opportunities to lower the rate of recidivism and other stories, that as you said, the Boys and Girls club can talk about. They’re making a difference in the lives of young people. I think one of the most important things about today’s announcement is these organizations aren’t just serving one age cohort. One organization may very well focus on the eight-, nine-, ten- or 11-year-old young people. Other organizations are addressing the 16–24-year-old cohort and we do this also not as an anti-violence effort per say, but through our summer jobs programs that we offer to young people at the city — through our Indy Achieves program — that allows more Marion County people pursue a post-secondary education degree after high school. Those are not anti-violence programs but yet, they affect public safety, I think, in profound ways.
Brauer: Between the anti-violence grants and the public safety initiatives, more than $2 billion has been spent since 2017. Do you have any regrets or would you have changed anything looking back?
Hogsett: I think all of the investments we have made in public safety have paid enormous benefits like adding 250 police officers, which I promised when I ran the first time. This year, we will be adding another 100 officers and I think the public is very supportive of that. We’re going to be, for the very first time also once this budget has been finalized, adding our civilian police force. Now, those folks are not sworn officers, but they are capable of responding to non-emergency situations like responding to car accidents and other forms of non-emergencies so that our sworn officers can spend more time doing the day-to-day work of keeping our streets safe. These efforts that we really began in 2016 were starting to pay dividends after 3 years. It didn’t happen overnight, but for the first time in ten years, we saw a decrease in the number of homicides in the city of Indianapolis.
Brauer: It was only five.
Hogsett: Right! But it’s going the right way and that’s what people expect. They don’t expect you to say overnight, ‘we’re going to eliminate gun violence,’ that would be naïve. They do expect the numbers to change and that is why we are investing an unprecedented level of money over these next three years to make sure those numbers do change. We’re going to be able to use this money to scale up programs that we have known have proven track records of success whereas in the previous ten years, the city of Indianapolis, my predecessors included, we have been able to invest two or three million dollars a year in antiviolence programs, each year for the next three years, we’ll be able to invest $15 million. So, we’re going to be able to scale up programs that we believe have worked and that we believe will increase public safety Indianapolis.
Brauer: Another big challenge is getting the people who need it most the access, or the wherewithal, to know it even exists. Again, I want to go back to the fact that maybe we should be focusing on children. You have had more than 60 children injured in shootings this year. When you’re trying to be proactive, how do you get them to the right place to make sure this stops?
Hogsett: You make sure you work with neighborhood groups and community groups. As I said in the presentation this morning, you can have as many police officers as is possible, to a great extent, police officers react when something bad has happened. That’s why investment, proactively, in community groups and neighborhood-based organizations who work with parents. I said it before and I’ll say it again, no one knows a neighborhood better than the neighbors themselves and that’s why we have spent a great deal on the ground, in the community, in our neighborhoods and with whom have a greater knowledge of the challenges faced by those neighborhoods. I think those investments are a wise investment to make. You cannot turn around a ship overnight but we will dedicate our best efforts every single day I remain as mayor to make Indianapolis as safe as it can possibly be.
Brauer: Do you have a goal on that timeline then?
Hogsett: The sooner, the better.