INDIANAPOLIS — Indianapolis may be a less violent place than it was a year ago with homicide down 20%, aggravated assaults off 16% and non-fatal shootings slumping 12%, but the numbers are not so optimistic for juveniles.
Last year on this date, IMPD had recorded 51 juveniles who had suffered gunshot wounds.
This year, that number was surpassed in early July.
In 2021, by this time, six juveniles had lost their lives to gun violence.
As of today, 2022’s juvenile homicide tally stands at 11.
”This year I think we’re seeing an increase in juvenile shooting victims, juvenile shooting suspects, it’s a trend we don’t want to see,” said IMPD Assistant Chief Chris Bailey.
During this week’s meeting of the Criminal Justice Planning Council, Marion County Prosecutor Ryan Mears said his office is filing more juvenile gun possession cases than ever.
”As a result of everyone having a gun, we have never filed more cases against juveniles,” he said. “We filed 418 of those between January of 2020 and March of 2022, and so that is a significant increase in the number of young people we’re seeing with firearms who have access to firearms.”
IMPD officers back up Mears’ claim.
”No, unfortunately, it’s not surprising to me. We see more and more of our juveniles in possession of weapons,” said Bailey. ”We’ve interdicted and prevented juvenile violence with a handgun in Broad Ripple and in downtown over the last several weeks.”
In early August, a 16-year-old was shot to death when IMPD detectives said he attempted to rob someone who was also armed with a gun.
This past weekend, a 15-year-old was left in critical condition after he was shot in an alley in the 4300 block of East Washington Street.
Shonna Majors, Executive Director of the Brightwood Community Center, spent her summer working with dozens of youngsters and talking at least once a week about the specter of gun violence in their lives.
”They shared that they’ve had people in their family, their friends, who have succumbed to death by gun violence and it was a big deal to them,” she said. ”Our kids are starting younger and younger falling in line with kind of a gang style type of activity where they think its cool.”
Majors said she is stunned by the excuses the young people offer to rationale juvenile gunplay.
”It’s cool to retaliate when you’ve been disrespected. It’s okay by their norms in the sub-culture to retaliate and fight back and then talk about it, brag about it, and so we have to change the culture of what’s acceptable to our youth.”
Assistant Chief Bailey said teens with guns questioned by police told investigators they fear their peer group more than the criminal justice system.
”They would rather be caught by the police with a gun than in a neighborhood without a gun,” he said.
During Monday’s CJPC meeting, with Mayor Joe Hogsett in attendance, IMPD Chief Randall Taylor said his officers are often blocked from investigating juvenile crime.
”Our officers don’t have the ability to check juvenile histories or records without a warrant,” said Taylor.
Bailey said that restriction was by the order of a former Marion County Juvenile Court Presiding Judge and exacerbated by the elimination of a vital court data base.
”We’re working with the court right now to try to figure out a way to have access to those records so that the officers can do their job in a timely manner,” he said, “and requiring a warrant for our law enforcement officer with a legitimate reason to see a criminal history of a juvenile is just not acceptable.
”Right now the case would have to be screened by the prosecutors office and the courts and the prosecutors would then have to ask for access to the criminal history,” said Bailey. ”We don’t want to create criminals of juveniles by just locking them up and throwing away the key. I get that. But letting them off the hook a lot of times turns them into even more emboldened criminals because they don’t fear the system.”
Majors cautions city officials and the community from being lulled into a false sense of relief when examining the fall of citywide violent crime statistics.
”I think that the city, overall, the gunshot violence number is reduced, but when you peel back that number, the age groups, you’ll see the increase in the juveniles, and that has to be a group that we continue to focus on,” she said. ”Our youth are our future and, if you think about, they are really destroying each other, and it just makes you sad.”