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INDIANAPOLIS – For months, CBS4 has been combing through records trying to find out how much the city of Indianapolis has spent on anti-violence grants.

Now, we know where your hard-earned tax dollars are going.

Since 2017, Indianapolis has spent nearly $12 million to assist violence-reduction programs. Among the top earners were the Eskenazi Health Foundation ($535,000), PACE Indy ($445,000) and the Indianapolis Public Safety Foundation ($446,000).

Most of the money was distributed by the Central Indiana Community Foundation, or CICF. The funding comes from the city budget, although the city does not have a say on where the money goes. Instead, CICF Director of Community Leadership Alicia Collins reviews dozens of applications and decides whether the grassroots organizations requesting funding qualify.

The Office of Public Health and Safety has also handed out funding. Since 2017, it has given out about $900,000 to programs including VOICES and Recycle Force.

In 2021, the city established a new program allowing city-county councilors to decide how to best fund organizations within their individual districts. This was, in part, because of the rising homicide rates citywide. Data shows about $400,000 was divvied up among 25 districts.

The $12 million dedicated to violence reduction is in addition to annual public safety budgets of more than $400,000. Since 2017, Indianapolis has approved a total of nearly $2.2 billion for public safety budgets that include funding for police, fire and emergency medical services.

Mayor Joe Hogsett, in a one-on-one interview with CBS4’s Angela Brauer, said the city is doing everything it possibly can to bring greater peace and safety to neighborhoods. The city’s investments in public safety had started to pay dividends prior to the pandemic, he said, and the hope is that they’re also preventing additional crimes from occurring, but that is difficult to quantify.

“I understand why people focus on one metric and one metric alone, and that is the number of homicides. The truth is, we as a city are not alone in that regard. Every major urban area in the country is experiencing it,” he said. “We’re trying to get out in front of it. We don’t want to be a follower; we want to be a leader.”

CBS4 tried contacting most of the organizations listed on CICF’s master grant list. We wanted to know what they had used their funding on. We ended up only hearing back from four of the programs listed.

Indianapolis Public Safety Foundation funding used to hire violence interrupters

The Indianapolis Public Safety Foundation (IPSF), as mentioned, received one of the largest amounts of money from CICF at $446,000.

Online, its mission statement reads:

As a 501(c)3 nonprofit, the Indy Public Safety Foundation (IPSF) works with the community to raise the necessary funds to provide important services and equipment that fall outside of annual departmental budgets. As a result, we are able to make a positive impact for our first responders and our community as a whole.

A spokesperson for the foundation said while it does support first responders, none of its CICF funding went to that cause.

Most of the funding IPSF received helped launch the violence interruption program. In 2021, the city hired six violence interrupters to patrol neighborhoods and respond to shootings. Each individual had first-hand experience on the streets and a lot of connections.

“It was adapted from an evidence-based model in Oakland, California. There has been plenty of research throughout that period of time as well as the east coast, which have implemented similar projects,” Dane Nutty, the executive director, said. “It’s a community-based violence reduction strategy that uses credible messengers to work with very high-risk individuals who may be at risk of committing a violent act.”

Nutty said the violence interrupters try to coach the individuals they meet and offer them resources.

“We create a life map for the fellas. These are individuals who are very high risk for committing violent acts and we say, ‘OK, what are the needs in your life? That could be getting your HSE or GED. It could be a job, it could be retaining a job,” Nutty explained.

The IPSF said it offers those who achieve their set goals up to $350 in stipends.

“It’s not about the money, necessarily,” Nutty said. “Realistically, it’s about showing them we’re serious in the work we’re doing and that we will follow up with it and that we want to continue building a relationship with them.”

The IPSF insists the program has been successful so far. In its first ten months of implementation, representatives say violence interrupters have successfully intervened in about 600 incidents.

“A chunk of those are in-person conflicts, right? So that might be on scene. Of course, emotions are high. You’ve got, perhaps, competing groups, crews, whatever that may be. So, to kind of get into that and de-escalate the situation,” Nutty told CBS4. “It’s always hard to quantify preventative work, but we know out of those 600 interruptions, some portion of that would have escalated to some kind of violence up to and including a possible homicide.”

According to IPSF, before the pandemic, the data in Oakland showed a decrease in crime. The foundation is hoping to see similar statistics in Indianapolis.

Indy PAL also received IPSF funding

In addition to the violence interruption program, IPSF used the money to help support Indy PAL.

“Indy PAL Is a program between officers and the youth and they build that relationship,” Lea Gurnell, the director of the program, explained. “Let it be sports, mentoring, just that one-on-one, going into schools, checking on them. But they build that relationship between the community and the police officers.”

As of October 2021, INDY Pal had about 1,000 children involved in football, basketball and baseball. Officials were hoping to expand the program and offer more sports in the future.

“We are going to expand into boxing, golf and there are other things were discussing at this time,” Gurnell said.

In addition, Indy PAL hopes to renovate some of its parks. The program recently built a new basketball court at the JVC Center and will soon focus in on its football fields as well.

The foundation’s hope is that by offering a child something to do and a high-quality place to do it, he or she will not get involved in crime.

“My son needed structure and something to do,” Fred Carr, a parent, said.

“I like the organization,” Shavon Downing, another parent, added. “Some people are just a product of their environment. Some people stray off, other people whose parents are really involved. No, I’m going to put you in this program.  My is a good kid regardless, but that is why I put him in here. So he can have something to like and like through high school and if, ‘If I get in trouble, my football is going to mess up.’”

When asked whether he thought the $2 billion in investments citywide has been worth it, Nutty said absolutely.

“I think we have a city of nearly one million people. Just like many cities throughout the country, we’re seeing a lot of [violence] because of what our country has gone through in the last year and a half. We’re seeing increases in violence and trauma people are undergoing. So, I think we need to double that, triple that, we need more money,” he said.

Eskenazi grant money pays for youth anti-violence programs

Another top earner on CICF’s list was the Eskenazi Health Foundation. Since 2017, it has received $535,000.

On its website, Eskenazi lists four anti-violence programs, three of which appear to be aimed at youth.  One of those is “Prescription for Hope,” or RxH. Eskenazi said it encourages anyone recovering from a gunshot wound, stabbing or other assault to enroll in this program. Participants can get help signing up for health insurance. They are also offered transportation to and from follow-up appointments. Eskenazi said it also assigns each patient a violence intervention specialist, who can in turn offer the individual and their family job opportunities, education, housing, financial assistance, childcare, mental health resources and food.

Eskenazi also runs Indy Heartbeat. It provides services and interventions for youth up to age 24. Officials offer resources for education, jobs, housing, health care and recreation. A spokesperson said Indy Heartbeat is mainly offered in high-crime areas around the metro.

Indy program for young men received some funding but questions why it was rejected for more

B4UFall is another organization that received funding, although it received significantly less. Since 2017, it has only been awarded $65,000.

“B4UFall is a community based organization, laser focused on saving young men between the ages of 12 and 24 and giving them an alternative to what we’ve seen is crime and violence in our community,” executive director Meisha Wide told CBS4. “We have offered them education, workforce development, and even mental health services.”

Founded in 2016, B4UFall was originally an after-school program that focused on teaching conflict resolution and positive mindset. Wide said over the years, though, it ended up serving different needs.

“There may be food insecurity. So how can we help that family and lessen some of their burdens? We’ll offer a food distribution with boxed food or even deliver it door-to-door. Some of our youth have been raised by grandparents.  We answer to the needs of the grandparents. They might have a home repair that is giving them some kind of burden,” Wide explained. “So, it’s not just before the youth falls. It’s literally a multi-generational approach.”

During the pandemic, when schools shut down and forced students to learn from home, B4UFall offered students the chance to learn remotely at their safe space downtown. They provided the WiFi necessary, a meal and snacks. Wide said throughout the last year, at least 50 families have asked for their assistance. Unfortunately, though, they have had to reject some of those requests because they couldn’t absorb the cost.

Wide claims she applied for a $100,000 grant but only received a portion of it. Then, she said, she has applied for CICF grant funding at least seven times before but said she has been rejected over and over again. She questions why other organizations are receiving assistance, but not hers.

CBS4 asked CICF why that was the case, but never received a response.

“If we’re community-based, if we’re focused on changing a community, why not put those resources in the hands of the people that are on the ground, going door to door that have the direct connection, the people that need it the most?” Wide asked. “Put the investment in the grassroots organizations that are directly connected to the people that need it.”

Indianapolis Neighborhood Resource Center got $20K for new program

The Indianapolis Neighborhood Resource Center, or INRC, received $20,000 from CICF during its 2019-2020 round. At the time, INRC was trying to grow its new program, the Youth Community Building Institute.

We see YCBI as a foundational step in youth understanding community development concepts and processes, feeling more connected to their neighborhoods and communities, and feeling like they can make a difference in their communities. We offered YCBI in partnership with youth-serving organizations, as a part of their programming. We piloted the program with a couple of groups and received some evaluation support to help us refine it. The CCPG funds allowed us to offer the program again with a few partners (Oasis of Hope Christian Church and Development Corporation, and with students at Purdue Polytechnic High School),” its executive director emailed.

With COVID, the INRC said it had some staffing transitions and had to pause the program. It hopes to jumpstart YCBI in 2022. In the meantime, it has been working with the Marion County Commission on Youth to offer pieces of its curriculum to youth leadership programs. It also continues to offer training programs, coaching and direct technical assistance and partnerships so that young adults can gain workforce experience.

“We know that neighbors acting together, visibly, and getting to know and support one another, really are the strongest deterrents to crime. Our work is rooted in the belief that everyone and every neighborhood has assets and strengths that can be built on to build stronger neighborhoods and a stronger city,” the Indianapolis Neighborhood Resource Center said via email.

City-County Councilor says Indianapolis should address quality-of-life issues first

City-County Councilor Zach Adamson represents district 17, which has the highest crime rate in the metro. CBS4 contacted him to ask whether he thinks the investments have been worth it, especially considering the number of homicides have hit an all-time high in 2021. We also asked for his thoughts on the root cause of the ongoing crime.

He did not mince words.

“Why do most people not shoot each other in the face? Because we have an understanding of what I allowable and not allowable in a civil society. It’s cause and effect, and we don’t have that right now,” Adamson said.

Adamson blamed quality-of-life disparities as a factor.

“I had a conversation with the mayor about quality-of-life issues and what I would consider to be more foundational issues that the city is completely responsible for,” he explained. “It has gone neglected in the inner city neighborhoods for a very long time. It’s not this administration or the last administration; this is generations of neglect that have been allowed to fester for a long time. When that happens, communities grow into chaos, disarray and disorder.”

On our walk to the interview location, Adamson pointed out a vehicle that was parked on someone’s front lawn. He used it as an example of what he was referencing.

“If a neighbor did that in Meridian-Kessler, one neighbor would complain about it and within the hour it would be addressed. Here, it’s not likely to be addressed ever,” he said.

Adamson said if the city were to address overgrown-weed concerns and noise ordinance complaints and hold people accountable for overflowing trash and property nuisances, the neighborhood might start seeing fewer criminals out on the streets and more accountable homeowners out and about.

“If you grow up with a disrespect for each other like we see and that is allowed to happen on a daily basis in these inner city neighborhoods, it’s not hard to imagine that young people think that just about anything goes. Because it kind of does! And we enforce that every day that we don’t treat Willard Park like we treat Meridian-Kessler, Adamson said.

According to him, quality of life issues should act as the foundation of crime prevention.

“I’m not saying the investments we have made have been bad investments. I’m saying [without] creating this foundation in which we would be building on those investments, you’re not going to see the success we really need to have.”

Indy districts received federal money in proportion to crime rates, letting councilors decide how to spend

New in 2021, the city used American Rescue Plan money and allowed all 25 of its city-county councilors to distribute money to programs within their districts. Adamson got the most, since his district has the most crime.

“I got the lion’s share,” he said. “It was $80,000 for the full year and that broken into two tranches.”

Records show Adamson split up his first half of money and supported the Martindale Brightwood Community Development Corporation, the Never Alone Project and Westminster Neighborhood Services, Inc. He questions, though, how much of an impact the funding will make.

“It sounds like a lot,” Brauer said during the interview.

“It’s not a lot” Adamson insisted. “What is $40,000 going to do when the need is so great?”

Adamson said he doesn’t think districts will be able to address the issue at hand if they keep having to make the grants fit a certain agenda.

“You’re not going to see a lot of innovation because you’re just sort of funding existing programming,” he explained. “The programming isn’t the problem. I think the foundation is the problem. We don’t have anything to build upon. All the while, the violent crime is escalating, the quality of life issues are still floundering, the issues that plague inner city neighborhoods are still going on.”

“Outside of violent crime, obviously, the one thing neighbors are very concerned about, the one thing I hear over and over again when they’re complaining, is about trash. They’re complaining about tall grass and weeds. They’re complaining about neighbors driving the wrong way on one streets or parking illegally or driving like lunatics without any kind of recourse. The one thing I hear over and over again is that this would never be allowed to happen in Meridian Kessler. This would never be allowed to happen in Geist. This would never be allowed to happen in Meridian Hills. This would never be allowed to happen in other places that don’t not only have these issues affecting them, but what they don’t have as well is violent crime and if they did, you better believe we’d have cops patrolling these streets, on a daily basis, in a visible way. You would have visible indicators of order. And that’s what police presence does! It gives people a visible sense of order on have anything to build upon,” he went on.

CBS4 asked Adamson about the city’s response to the crime epidemic.

“Knowing all of this and what we just discussed, if you could give the city a grade right now, responding to the ongoing violence, the numbers that keep increasing, what would that grade be?”

“I would say a C+ maybe,” Adamson replied. “I’d say average. When you look at the merits, the data on the programming we’re investing in, it’s all there. But I think the assumption is you start with a foundation of order. We are not.”