Criminal justice study commission on the agenda for City-County council meeting

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. - Four people found dead in a shooting merely hours after the city-county council's public safety & criminal justice committee voted down a new measure to tackle the growing crime problem in Marion County.

Councilors on the committee debated among themselves about the measure for a public safety study commission. The proposal would have create a criminal justice study commission to review the status of the city's long-term and short-term response to violent crime. It would then recommend any needed council proposals and gather information from experts to recommend policy changes.

Before the public had a chance to comment on the proposal, representatives from the mayor's office, the sheriff's office and the prosecutor's office all delivered prepared remarks, supporting the committee's plans and urging the councilors to vote down on the proposal.

Ultimately, the majority of councilors voted it down. Chairman Leroy Robinson said the committee will instead move forward with its own plans. CBS4 caught up with him as he was leaving the meeting. We asked what changes to the growing crime problem the city can expect seeing.

"First of all, with our public safety plans, which will be in each district, we are evaluating our crime prevention grants over at the organization called CICF and also just work with all public safety officials to look at data, collect data, represent that in a manner that we can have solutions," Robinson said.

Robinson also believes the committee can gather enough information to create solutions.

"Most important is looking at data," Robinson said. "It's important that we have data-informed decisions to address any of these concerns. That's number one. We're collecting the data from all agencies. we'll be implementing public safety plans for each council district with resources behind that. Number two, there'll also be community meetings through the criminal justice planning council and through my committee to address those concerns."

Some of the people in the crowded room at the meeting included police officers' wives. Rachel, who did not want to give her last name, is married to an officer.

"The last council person that spoke talked about let's take action," Rachel recalled. "I hope they truly mean that, and I hope they truly do move forward and take action to keep this community safer."

Rachel worries about her husband, in light of knowing the importance of his job.

"I send my husband out to work everyday, putting himself in harm's way to protect the community which was always something that I knew going into when he became a police officer, but with violence on the rise, it just worries me more and more," Rachel said.

Indianapolis Fraternal Order of Police President Rick Snyder was one of several people who addressed this commission. CBS4's reported numerous stories about the "Where's the Outrage" campaign he organized alongside Rev. Charles Harrison, Indianapolis TenPoint President.

Snyder underscored the importance of putting a solution together as soon as possible instead of waiting for the next plan. He released this statement in full after the vote:

“Tonight’s Public Safety Committee rejected a proposal for a Commission to tackle the deficiencies in our broken criminal justice system. Unfortunately, a nonpartisan approach on solutions for violence and victims was voted down along party lines.

Instead, the Chair of the Public Safety Committee and his colleagues made clear they have a plan to address the violence in Indianapolis and will handle these challenges through their committee. Law enforcement professionals, their families and residents made clear we are in a crisis and the time to act is now.

Elected leaders were begged to immediately bring stakeholders to the table including rank and file officers and residents. Sadly, that was rejected.

We look forward to their plan of action while we continue to stand the line against surging violence. Our residents and our officers are caught in the middle of this. We ask that our community join together and pray for our leaders and the healing of our city.”

Robinson also released a statement following the vote. The complete statement reads:

The Indianapolis City-County Council’s Public Safety and Criminal Justice Committee is adopting a new model to address violent crime in the city.

Moving forward, Chairman Councillor Robinson says, the committee will increase oversight and coordination of the city’s criminal justice agencies, and engage the public in data-driven conversations about addressing violent crime and its underlying causes. Robinson also says the committee will begin reviewing public safety policies through the lens of equity based on race, place, and identity.

After adjourning tonight’s meeting of the Council’s Public Safety and Criminal Justice Committee, Chairman Robinson offered the following statement:

“I want to thank my colleagues and the members of the public who attended the Public Safety and Criminal Justice committee hearing this evening. I am pleased that other partners in the city such as Mayor Hogsett, Clerk Eldridge, Sheriff Forestal and Prosecutor Mears have expressed their support of this Committee and the work we have ahead of us.” He continued:

“For all of us, public safety is our first priority. By working together, the members of this committee and our partner agencies can take swift, strategic action without adding additional layers of bureaucracy to impede our progress to address violent crime and the underlying issues that cause it. We will be holding our next committee meeting in the community on February 26th and I encourage the public to attend.”

Mayor Hogsett says that while he welcomes “the opportunity to work with Councillors in any way council leadership sees fit,” he knows “the Public Safety and Criminal Justice Committee can continue to be a valuable forum for continued dialogue and thoughtful solutions.” Hogsett went on to say:

“Issues related to public safety and criminal justice reform continue to be some of the most pressing challenges that we face as a community. Over the last four years, I have valued the leadership of the Council’s Public Safety and Criminal Justice Committee and the bipartisan collaboration that has allowed us to launch a comprehensive criminal justice reform effort, increase funding for violence prevention programs, and return IMPD districts to a community-based beat policing model.”

Marion County Sheriff Forestal agrees with that sentiment. “We are fortunate to have a strong Public Safety and Criminal Justice Committee within our City County Council” the sheriff says. “I have faith and confidence in our existing entities to deal with criminal justice challenges in Marion County,” he says, adding “Criminal activity, by its very nature, is dynamic and ever changing. Our existing criminal justice agencies must be, and historically have been, nimble” as they seek to address crime.

The Marion County Prosecutor’s Office noted that while “we agree that there is a need for a focused look at violent crime—why it is occurring and how to more effectively prevent it—in our community.” The Prosecutor’s Office went on to say:

“We support the leadership of Chairman Robinson in expanding the work of the Public Safety and Criminal Justice committee to address issues within our local criminal justice system. Additionally, we see the Criminal Justice Planning Council as another established body which could take on this discussion with critical stakeholders at the table and opportunities for public input.”

Marion County Clerk Myla Eldridge, who heads the city’s Criminal Justice Planning Council (CJPC), supports the committee’s plan. “I am committed,” she says, “to working with Chairman Robinson and the City-Council’s standing Public Safety and Criminal Justice committee as we continue to confront the issue of violent crime and its underlying root causes within the existing infrastructure already in place to address these important issues.” The mission of the CJPC, she says, will be to “study, forecast and make recommendations to the Council regarding both short-term and long-term needs of law enforcement and the criminal justice system.”

The next meeting of the Public Safety and Criminal Justice committee is Wednesday, February 26, at 5:30 p.m. Marion County Prosecutor Ryan Mears will attend the meeting to present the latest Marion County violent crime statistics and provide an update on his recent internal policy decisions based on an equity lens. To encourage public participation, the meeting will be held at a community-based site. As always, committee meetings will be televised on Channel 16 and open to all. Additionally, Robinson says, all materials presented to committee members will be made available online at: https://www.indy.gov/activity/public-safety-and-criminal-justice-committee.

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