There’s a new billboard that’s gone up in Beech Grove, visible to westbound I-465 motorists just before they make the curve to head for the Emerson Avenue exit.
The billboard reads, “Welcome to Indianapolis”, “Higher Murder Rate than Chicago”, and, “Democrat led since 2016”.
The billboard cites a May, 2021, story on CBS4 News listing Indianapolis’ murder rate of 10.6 criminal homicides per 100,000 residents compared with Chicago’s 8 murders per 100,000 neighbors.
Before the year was over, Indianapolis set a new homicide record and it all happened during Ryan Mears’ tenure as the Marion County Prosecutor.
“If you look at our conviction rate, it’s never been better,” said Mears. “If you look at our success at trial, in particular at holding violent offenders accountable especially on murder cases, we’ve never had better success in the prosecutors office.”
Republican Cyndi Carrasco, who wants Mears’ job, isn’t buying it.
“People who commit gun crimes need to be held accountable and the example after example, unfortunately I can give you, is that our prosecutor is not holding people, particularly people who commit crimes with guns, accountable.”
Mears’ office provided statistics that show in the most recent 500 prosecuted Serious Violent Felon with gun cases, 78% of the defendants have been found guilty or convicted of the highest charge possible, such as murder or robbery, or been referred for federal prosecution, which often results in conviction.
Since Mears came on to finish out the term of the late Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry in September of 2019, there have been 659 homicides in Indianapolis as of May 31st and the city set two annual homicide records.
The homicide trend is slowing this year with 87 killings through May 31st as opposed to 103 during the first five months of 2021, however, last year’s totals also included three mass murders that accounted for 18 victims.
2021 was also a record year for five-month non-fatal shooting statistics, though those numbers are down by double digit totals thus far this year.
“It is no coincidence that since the current prosecutor has taken office, we have had record homicides,” said Carrasco. “There is no action from the Prosecutors office to hold people accountable.”
During a community conversation about gun violence including neighborhood leaders and IMPD at a westside coffee shop this morning, Mears referred to the demise of the state’s handgun permit system which Indiana lawmakers voted to scrap as of July 1st.
“I think the legislative impact and the changes we’re gonna have in terms of permitless carry coming into effect in Indiana, and in particular in Marion County, is gonna have to change the way we investigate violent crimes,” he said. “We are now more than ever dependent upon the community. We need the community to come forward with information.”
Carrasco would not criticize her party’s leadership, from the General Assembly to Governor Holcomb, who endorsed the permitless carry legislation.
“What the legislature and the governor decided to do in passing the laws is their purview,” she said. “I’m tired of seeing case after case where current laws on the books are not being used as they should be.”
Mears pointed out that the increase in homicides coincided with the onset of the pandemic and the corresponding shut down of Marion County courts, resulting in a backlog of murder and shooting cases that he said should see accelerated prosecution now that COVID restrictions have been lifted and the Superior courts have completed the move to the new Community Justice Center in Twin Aire.
Though losing gun permit violations as an effective investigative and prosecution option, Mears said he will step up the filing of charges for so-called illegal Glock switches to maximize the firepower of handguns.
“One of the things we need to educate legislators about is the proliferation of these Glock switches. It turns a pistol into an automatic weapon,” he said. “One of the unintended consequences of this permitless carry is it makes it more difficult for law enforcement to identify those firearms without really inspecting them.
“It’s actually making it more easy for people to carry around automatic weapons because of these Glock switches that are so readily available.”
Mears said he is also emphasizing the prosecution of gun owners who either knowingly or negligently permit their firearms to fall into the hands of people who should not have them.
“There’s not a lot of laws or tools available to us when it comes to prosecuting firearms offenses and so it’s going to be really important to us to be proactive in making sure that when people don’t use their firearms responsibly, that we can figure out a way to make sure that there is a criminal penalty attached to that.
“I think there are a number of remedies that are potentially available that will hopefully make our community safer by preventing individuals from getting their hands on things like semi-automatic weapons turned into automatic weapons or body armor.”
Carrasco said she would not entertain any consideration of new gun restrictions or laws to ban gear not covered by the 2nd Amendment such as body armor which was worn by the gunman who allegedly killed ten people in a Buffalo, New York, grocery store last month.
“Before we get into any conversations about body armor and whatnot, I want to use the laws that are already on the books.”
Mears said he was not troubled by his failure to receive the endorsement of Lodge #86 of the Fraternal Order of Police, a vote of confidence that Carrasco readily accepted.
“Our public safety crisis in part is happening because of a failed relationship between the Prosecutors office and law enforcement. I’m working right now to fix that relationship,” she said. “Unanimously what I’m hearing is they are in need of a partner…a partner who is going to take the baton of the work that they do and actually take it across the finish line.
“They’re telling me that the prosecutor isn’t taking cases to court, they don’t know what happens to the cases. They’re telling me that they arrest people and before their shift is over, they see that person that they arrested back out on the street.”
Last night voters in San Francisco recalled District Attorney Chesa Boudin, known for his progressive ideas to limit law enforcement and prosecution.
Mears has sought to de-emphasize minor marijuana possession and provide second chances for drivers with suspended licenses or non-custodial parents who have fallen behind on child support payments.
The prosecutor said the San Francisco recall results don’t concern him that Marion County voters may turn their backs on his policies.
“We’re not gonna distract ourselves with simple possession of marijuana cases and I think that’s a balance that the community understands and appreciates,” he said. “We’ve sent a message to the community that we’re not gonna mess around with petty things like possession of marijuana.”
IMPD officers have said that without the option of small amount marijuana charges combined with the elimination of the state’s gun permit system, their potential law enforcement tools to investigate suspected illegally armed persons has been limited.
Shawn Brown lost four family members to a mass killing over a stimulus check in early 2021.
“I wish there were harsher penalties for gun violence,” he said. “The people out here that are being touched by the gun violence, we wish there was something they could do about it but I don’t feel like it is. I don’t feel like it’s any easier so slow down the violence.
“I know people who are felons and still carry guns because they say, ‘I would rather be caught with it than without it,’ and they’re willing to do the time.
“It’s never been hard to get a gun in Indiana,” he said. “What I’m mainly concerned about is how can they stop the gun violence from these newly 18-year-old gun buyers that are going out and buying guns legally and choosing to use them for death and destruction.”
Of the 26 murders cleared by IMPD Homicide detectives so far this year, eight teenagers have been arrested, the youngest, a pair of 13-year-olds.