INDIANAPOLIS — Whether its listening to community members about crime in their neighborhoods, emphasizing focused police district narcotics and violent felon investigations or sending residents door-to-door with the message of peace, Mayor Hogsett and IMPD are banking on the people who live in Indianapolis to lead the way in making the city a less violent place in 2021.
Murders were up 40% in 2020, and recent trends show no sign of slowing down, while overall reported crimes dipped more than eight percent last year.
Mayor Joe Hogsett is confident that long term law enforcement, criminal justice and social response investments will begin to pay off as hopefully COVID-19’s grip on the city is matched by a downturn in violence.
“We are funding at historic levels the community-based violence prevention organizations more than ever before with a more coordinated and data driven approach,” said Hogsett during a virtual briefing to review his administration’s 2020 record on fighting crime and preview changes in strategy for a more peaceful 2021.
Approximately $4 million will be dedicated to various community violence grants and programs in the coming year.
“We’re seeing a lot of conflict, a lot of mental health stress on people,” said Community Violence Reduction Director Shonna Majors who highlighted the challenges faced by parolees coming home to Indianapolis during the pandemic. “A lot of our returning citizens, the jobs they were able to get or keep where a lot of those were in hospitality, and that has created yet another burden on people and so we’re seeing the need for money as a lot of what we’re seeing through the drug trade, also just social media beef as usual, a lot of that structure especially for the young people, school is not in in its traditional sense so people are just handling things in an inappropriate way.”
The lack of school supervision, and the opportunity to observe teenagers up close on a daily basis, has made pre-emptively tracking youth crime tougher, according to IMPD Assistant Chief Chris Bailey.
“We have to be continued to be focused and laser focused on the small number of people, places and behaviors that are responsible for the majority of the crime,” said Bailey, promising to seek resident input as to the type of policing the communities want. “We know that through intelligence, community tips and through data, and so we have to continue to use that model and help use that to guide our actions.”
Greater emphasis on gun evidence collection, tracking of violent felons, beat policing and directed patrols, as well as dividing the Investigations Bureau into reactive and pro-active divisions, is intended to anticipate and curb violence before it breaks out or spreads.
“It doesn’t mean traffic stops or investigative stops necessarily,” said Bailey. “It’s community engagement. It’s being present. Its walking. Its talking. Its dealing with the issues that the community identified and having the dedicated time to do so.”
Bailey said a recent study by researchers from the New York University Law School found that IMPD officers spend 41% of their time performing law enforcement services, such as taking non-suspect larceny reports, no-injury accident reports and running on false alarms, as opposed to investigative or crime prevention duties,
“We’re gonna be implementing an online self-reporting tool where citizens and the community can report crimes that happen, a vehicle larceny with no suspects, they can do that themselves online without having to wait for an officer to come to their house to do that,” said Bailey, indicating the department would rely more heavily on civilian employees or phone systems to take non-priority reports.
In response to community demands for transparency and accountability, IMPD will refine its body worn camera technology program, help launch its General Orders and Use of Force Boards with civilian participation and attempt to reach its often-delayed goal of 1743 officers.
Key to the city’s attempt to curb crime will be citizen participation and a willingness to come forward with tips.
That campaign suffered a significant blow this past weekend with the shooting death of Johnny Purchase, a community activist who was gunned down, perhaps unintentionally, while delivering anti-violence fliers in a north side neighborhood.
“Mr. Purchase was working for one of our community partners and was out simply canvassing the community and leaving fliers on doors about the resources available to that community,” said Majors. “From what I understand, the person inside was expecting trouble at the door and it just so happened that it was Mr. Johnny putting a flier on the door to let that community know about the resources that were available at that community center.”
“Unfortunately, when you’re in a war, you may lose a battle or two in there, but that doesn’t keep us and other community members from feeling a need to participate in that,” said IMPD Chief Randal Taylor, “and I believe more and more will continue to step up as we try to get a grip on what’s going on.”
Majors said she has hired several “Interrupters,” Office of Public Health & Safety employees assigned to go door-to-door in their communities in the wake of violence with the intention of stopping retaliatory killings.
“This level of work becomes dangerous and requires credible messengers. There are people that we want to reach out to and not just anyone can walk up to their door and talk to them.”
Mayor Hogsett acknowledged the delicate and possibly perilous work those Interrupters will do in combating violence.
“The work of the Interrupters is extraordinarily dangerous,” agreed Hogsett. “These Interrupters are putting their life in harm’s way from time to time and, sadly, Mr. Purchase paid the ultimate price.”
Hogsett, Taylor and Majors attended a memorial service for “Mr. Johnny” at the Edna Martin Christian Center Monday.
“The work that Mr. Purchase died in doing it is critically important and the people that were gathered there were there to reemphasize that we cannot let Mr. Johnny’s life go in vain and we need to redouble our efforts and reconnect ourselves collectively as a community particularly in our support of those that will do this critical work,” said Hogsett. “Rather than say, ‘Throw up our hands and give up,’ is certainly not the sentiment that was expressed. Rather the sentiment expressed was, ‘Lets make sure Mr. Johnny’s life goes ever farther and even deeper into the community and help save our young people from the darkness that all too often surrounds them.’”
As laudable as that sentiment and goal is, the Reverend David Greene, Jr., President of the Concerned Clergy, said the mayor may not be realistic.
“It’s one thing to say overall crime is down, but most of us citizens of Indianapolis don’t feel any safer. That’s still a real issue,” said Greene. “We’ve been at beat policing for a little while. We have numerous organizations who have been ‘quote-unquote’ working the streets and we’ve not seen that not necessarily translate to lower homicide numbers or lower acts of gun violence.
“You’ve got a man who was doing good in the community, but it also speaks to how so many of our communities and neighborhoods are not safe,” said Greene. “If you’re willing to be a witness because people names are in affidavits, etc., and then there’s no conviction, people find out about this, then their homes can be shot up and they’re putting children and other people in their family at risk and a lot of people are going to be hesitant.
“Simply saying, ‘If you see something, say something,’ that’s not cover enough, and I don’t see a number of people stepping up to be a part of that.”
Greene said perhaps it is time for Joe Hogsett to admit that his elimination of the job of public safety director in order to become Indianapolis’ “Public Safety Mayor” has failed.
“Maybe we should have a public safety director clearly who is focused on these questions tracking this on a daily and a weekly basis holding people accountable because it’s a job unto itself,” said Greene. “Maybe we have to swallow our pride and say, ‘Well, I had this idea we didn’t need that but now I want to say we do need that, give a clear job description, here’s what they’re gonna do, it’s what they’re gonna be held accountable for and hold everybody accountable down the line.’
“If we’re gonna fix the problem, there has to be intentional focus by somebody daily holding people accountable.”
Majors announced that OPHS would provide a Johnny Purchase Peace Fellowship in honor of the slain community activist.