Community violence reduction programs to get $82M boost


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INDIANAPOLIS — The American Rescue Plan is affording Indianapolis a rare opportunity to make game-changing investments in law enforcement and community spending in the battle against violent crime.

Indianapolis’ 2021 homicide total stands at 162. A year ago, today it was 138 on the way to a new annual record.

At this rate, homicides could approach 300 by the year’s end as non-fatal shootings are happening at a record clip, too.

As part of his recently revealed 2022 budget, Mayor Joe Hogsett wants to spend $166.5 million of the city’s $419 million in ARP funds on IMPD enhancements and community investments.

IMPD will see about $31 million of total in new technology and Police Athletic League investments and the commitment to hire an additional 200 police officers over the next three years.

Hogsett and City-County Council President Vop Osili have both told CBS4 News that Indianapolis’ measured and incremental approach the last six years, as crime leveled off before violence exploded last year during the pandemic, has taught the city that more must be done to stand up community groups fighting crime while supporting IMPD improvements.

“All of these dollars are overdue, and I do think doubling down is the right thing,” said Lauren Rodriquez, Director of the Office of Public Health and Safety. “The community, one, will feel heard and, hopefully, we will help them feel safer because we’re out there.”

Since taking office in 2016, Hogsett has earmarked approximately $16.3 million to community-based efforts to find solutions to crime.

The mayor is proposing boosting that funding allotment to $15 million per year for the next three years.

Thomas Abt, a former official of the Obama Justice Department who worked on urban violence reduction, has written that every homicide has at least a $10 million economic impact on the community and that if $30,000 per homicide were invested in community programs, the result would be a significant drop in killings.

Rodriquez said the additional city commitment would include, “pouring money into more youth programming, mental health training, and making sure that we are cognizant that we are addressing the issues right now but also are trying to figure out how to prevent them in the future. Pouring into programs like the Boys and Girls Club.”

At PACE Indy, formerly incarcerated persons find financial advice, counseling, housing, and computer skills literacy and referrals to facilitate their return to the community.

“We have a lot of clients that maybe if they could maintain a safe place to live or just find a safe place to live and didn’t have to go rely on an unsafe partner or live in an unsafe situation then that would keep them out of the system and those are the things, we need the real dollars for,” said Kristina Byers, Program Manager at PACE which received a $90,000 city grant last December. “These are the real things that can prevent further involvement with law enforcement, domestic violence, lots of things happen just by someone connecting to another human and not just anyone but someone who gets it.”

Last year PACE assisted 1200 clients. One of them was Russell Hagan.

“I also came here because I want to go back to school. My goal was to come in and learn how to type and get into Ivy Tech to become a substance abuse counselor because I’ve been there and I feel like PACE is a good thing to come in and do if you’re trying to get something constructive in your life and not be destructive,” he said. “They have helped me with basically learning how to do the computer thing over there, housing, talking to different people as far as trying to get my life on track.”

Hogsett is also proposing $37 million in expanded Group Violence Intervention strategies which include hiring dozens of peacemaker interrupters who respond immediately to violent crime in order to curb retaliation attacks and refer those involved to other programs and resources such as incentivized stipends, relocation support, and outreach.

“We’ve had 427 interruptions so far, and that’s since March,” said Rodriquez, “and without the interrupter program and our peacemakers and the resource coordinators, we wouldn’t have those numbers, who would be doing those interruptions?”

Rodriquez said community-based groups are also responding to violence in the neighborhood.

“Those people are also interrupting violence. Those people are also providing resources and connecting individuals with things they never thought they could get.”

David Watkins is the resource coordinator for the OPHS Violence Interrupters program.

“Let’s partner better with IMPD with the agencies out there to get trained in areas we might not have exhibited the best behaviors yet,” he said. “I’m super excited as to what’s going to happen in the next four to six months, or even sooner, because I think it’s gonna be a bunch of folks out there to remedy this rising issue that we’re facing.”

Built into the community-based violence reduction grant expansion is more follow up and assessment to determine if the programs have spent the money effectively and if those programs are having an impact on violence as well as educating the operators on standing up their organizations and developing the skills to seek their own long-term funding for the future.

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