As Indianapolis stays on pace to break homicide record, community organization works to reduce crime

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INDIANAPOLIS – There were more than a dozen shootings reported in the circle city from Friday to Sunday. As of Monday afternoon, the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department said the total number of homicides this year is now at 171. That is just one shy of the total for 2019.

Murders are also up this year in comparison to last year. So far, IMPD has recorded 144 intentional homicides. There were 104 murders at this time in 2019.

Back in August, the city announced four community organizations will share in $300,000 in violence prevention grants announced by Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett.

RecycleForce, VOICES, Community Action of Greater Indianapolis and Edna Martin Christian Center each received $75,000 to begin work Sept. 1.

RecycleForce is committed to reducing crime through employment and job training, while improving the environment through electronics recycling.

Each year, the organization hires more than 300 ex-offenders to dismantle electronic items. The president and founder, Gregg Keesling, said criminal justice oversight officers send people over who are deemed medium to high risk. The ex-offenders stay in the program for at least 120 days.

One of RecycleForce’s goals is to reduce recidivism by helping ex-offenders get a better job. Keesling said 60%-70% of participants go on to a better job and about 25% return to prison.

One of the participants, Fredrick Bell, has been in prison three times after convictions involving narcotics. The 34-year-old father said this program is helping him stay out of trouble.

“I did my time and that is basically it. That was my past life. Now I am moving forward,” he said.

Bell explained he has not faced another conviction since coming to RecycleForce. He is motivated to focus on work because he wants to provide for his son.

“I got my son so the streets do not mean nothing to me no more. I am focused on working and building a life for my son. So if anything does happen to me, I leave it to my son,” Bell said.

The organization plans to use the grant money to hire a mental health provider. Keesling said the grant will also support the work done by Shane Shepherd, an ex-felon and president of B4UFall, a group that interacts with former offenders and brings them to services designed to help them succeed upon returning home from incarceration.

“If they don’t have family or other support to help them, then we bring them into our program,” said Keesling.

It is a model that tries to keep the city not only clean but also safe as Indianapolis stays on pace to break its homicide record.

“If we can meet them better with social services, we would be reducing this,” he said. “I don’t want the story to be it is the mayor’s fault or the council’s fault or the governor’s fault. It is all of us.”

Here is a look at the three other organizations that received grant money:

  • VOICES, a healing-centered, community arts organization dedicated to youth outreach.
  • Community Action of Greater Indianapolis, a nonprofit dedicated to reducing poverty; the group serves more than 40,000 households and 100,000 residents of Boone, Hamilton, Hendricks, Marion and Tipton counties.
  • Edna Martin Christian Center, which provides violence reduction case management, youth outreach, job readiness, on-the-job training and financial literacy services.

Investments in social services

Overall, the Chief Communications Officer for the city’s Office of Public Health and Safety (OPHS) said Indianapolis has allocated $56.7 million in social service investments this year through federal COVID-19 relief funding.

“Beyond the pandemic, the City continues its active efforts to reduce violence through engagement and alternatives to the criminal justice system – most notably in the work of OPHS’s community violence reduction team of peacemakers,” said LaMar Holliday with OPHS. “But let’s be clear, our City is facing a national trend of shootings and homicides that most cities are having difficulty with, but we remain committed to providing available resources, violence prevention and interruption to keep Indianapolis safe.”

Some of the social investments include job initiatives, drug-treatment services and housing services.

Indianapolis’ OPHS is administering two related programs, funded through DOJ grants, to provide job training and employment skills to re-entrants from the criminal justice system.

For drug-treatment services, the Reuben Engagement Center provides secure housing and wraparound services for the city’s homeless neighbors with substance abuse disorders. During COVID-19, OPHS has partnered with Eskenazi Health and the Indiana Addiction Issues Coalition to provide more than a dozen resources and information for individuals battling addictions during the pandemic.

Earlier this month, the city also announced $7.1 million in rapid rehousing fund. Officials believe it will connect many of the participants with more permanent housing solutions. Through the rental assistance program, Indianapolis has now committed at least $30 million dollars to assisting renters who are struggling with the financial impact of COVID-19.

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