Downtown Indy’s American Legion Mall and library return to peace

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – For more than a year, the north end of the American Legion Mall just across the street from the main branch of the Indianapolis Public Library was an open air drug market and gathering place of troublemakers that challenged pedestrians and patrons to run a gauntlet of abuse, arguments, mayhem and violence just to enjoy downtown green space or borrow a book.

A triple stabbing, the murder of a man, the fatal punching of an out-of-town visitor and repeated emergency overdose runs finally got the attention of State Capitol Police who have jurisdiction over the downtown park system and several other properties inside the Mile Square.

“Of course we’re reactive to current events,” said Indiana State Police Sergeant John Perrine. “Unfortunately in our line of work we can’t be everywhere all the time, but when we do have something so tragic happen right under our noses we’re going to focus our manpower and resources to try to prevent that in the future.”

As recently as April, State Capitol Police were only at about half-strength with more than 20 open positions, straining the force which is delegated to protecting the downtown canal, statehouse property, the Soldiers and Sailors Monument, the state police crime lab and park land that stretches five blocks from New York to St. Clair streets.

“Superintendent Doug Carter has allocated some overtime opportunities for some officers to come out here on the weekends and patrol starting on Thursday night through Saturday,” said Perrine, “but also in an effort to be here to be visible here throughout all the daylight hours seven days a week.”

A new working agreement between ISP and IMPD and a commitment to pursue criminal trespass charges against chronic offenders led to more aggressive pro-active patrolling by Metro officers on state property.

“We have the ability to trespass them from the park. Before we didn’t have that,” said Captain John Mann of IMPD’s Downtown district, “so we would come in, make an arrest, and they’d be back here the very next day. We had no way to move them out of an area once we had cleaned the area up. I think we’re starting to see some of the benefits of that right now.

“In the last three weeks we’ve locked up 16 trespassers and trespassed 13 of those 16 for their criminal action in the park and then they can’t come back. If they come back we can lock them up on the spot.”

Stanley Jones suffered fatal injuries after an attack on Mall property in April.

A week earlier three people were stabbed.

Last fall David Smith, a Canadian businessman, was punched during a random attack on the Monument. Though Capitol Police rendered immediate lifesaving treatment, Smith never recovered from his head injuries and recently died. His accused attacker, Stanley Belcher, faces a felonious assault charge but was ordered this week to undergo psychiatric evaluation to determine if he is mentally competent to stand trial.

“Our narcotics and bike units from Downtown district have been working day and night to clean this place up,” said Mann as he surveyed the Mall which previously was populated by arguing and threatening people. “We were seeing a lot of spice dealings, a lot of spice overdoses here in the park as we do around the city, but this seemed to be at one time a real concentrated area down here.”

Some of that raucous crowd has relocated a block south to the park across from the Scottish Rite Cathedral.

Since May, 2017, IMPD made 141 arrests on the Mall, more than two dozen in the last two months, often for possession of synthetic marijuana or trespass.

“The perception from the public was nothing’s changed and we were still having the violent activities, we were still having the overdoses in here,” said Mann. “What the trespass order has done has given us some teeth to that.”

Mike Williams, Area Resource Manager for the Central Library, has noticed more civil behavior inside his branch thanks to the stepped up enforcement literally on his front steps.

“It’s much much better. There seems to be less violent action,” he said. “I think we’re seeing some polite behavior in the library as well as we should…and the other night I got to see some young people playing some football and some Frisbees. It’s a big beautiful park downtown and it’s nice to see it used constructively.”

Mann said now that IMPD has cleaned up the park, it will be the responsibility of State Capitol Police to keep the peace.

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