Indianapolis homicide detectives getting much needed slowdown in deadly crime

Crime in Indianapolis

INDIANAPOLIS — Indianapolis is experiencing what has become a rare occurrence — a lull in homicides.

Between Sept. 8 and Sept. 20, there has only been one new homicide investigation.

“That has been a breath of fresh air,” said IMPD Homicide Branch Commander Roger Spurgeon.

This lull in homicides comes after an especially violent Labor Day weekend when five people were killed in 13 hours on Monday, Sept. 6, and another person was killed on Tuesday, Sept. 7.

At the time, IMPD East District Commander Richard Riddle said the cases were stacking up for IMPD homicide detectives.

”Unfortunately, we haven’t had that slowdown in homicides to where our homicide detectives can catch a break,” said Riddle.

But a break seems to be exactly what followed that outbreak of violence. This nearly two-week slowdown in homicides is a welcome sight for Spurgeon and his overworked homicide detectives.

”It’s stretched us to the limits,” said Spurgeon about the uptick in homicides since the last few months of 2019.

Spurgeon said the FBI recomends a homicide detective be the lead detective on four to six cases a year.

”That gives you two to three months between being a lead detective on a homicide case to vigorously work that case,” he said.

But that hasn’t been the typical caseload for IMPD detectives.

“The past couple of years, we have been well above that,” Spurgeon said.

He said IMPD detectives are working eight to nine cases per year right now, meaning detectives have to be masters of time management.

”Trying to do the best with the resources we do have and work the cases as efficiently and effectively as we can,” Spurgeon said.

So you can imagine how important a nearly two-week lull in homicides is.

”If you’re having less things thrown on you at the drop of a hat, you’re going to have a better outcome in what your workday is,” Spurgeon said.

During this time, Spurgeon said detectives have been able to work on different cases with fewer interruptions.

“To give our people some time to figure out, ‘Okay, what do I need to do?’ Make a to do list, figure out what the priorities are, what’s important now, what can I take care of.”

Spurgeon said breathing room like this can be a morale booster, especially as they battle burnout.

”They’re getting such a large volume of cases in such a short amount of time,” he said. “Even some of the detectives that have been doing it for a long time and are very good at time management, it’s wearing them out as well.”

But just because there is a lull doesn’t mean detectives are clearing their caseloads.

Spurgeon said each case is complex, so the slowdown means detectives get more time to “dot i’s and cross t’s” with fewer new cases getting added on top of their workload.

”The reality is there are many different moving parts to each case, regardless of the complexity of the case,” he said.

As for what is causing the slowdown in homicides, Spurgeon said he wishes he knew.

“I would love to tap into that and put that all together all the time,” Spurgeon said.

It’s not just homicide detectives feeling the effects of the lull. Spurgeon said every new homicide requires a lot of uniformed officers to secure the scene, make sure everyone is safe and nothing new happens.

”That’s a drain on what they could be otherwise doing, as far as going out and doing some kind of community policing, being able to engage with the public, being able to build that rapport and that trust that we so desperately need,” he explained.

While IMPD homicide detectives have this uninterrupted time to focus on cases they’re already working on, Spurgeon said they’re seeing the effects of a new program, as well.

Recently, IMPD public information officers have been giving out the phone number and email of detectives who are working homicide cases.

”It’s been a positive thing,” Spurgeon said. “I’ve heard anecdotally from a few different detectives, ‘Hey, since we’ve been putting my name out there, putting my email address out there, I have actually gotten some tips back on some things that maybe I wouldn’t have gotten as soon or maybe not as directly.’”

He called it a “win-win” for detectives and the families they’re working with.

“The general public and the victims’ families have that more direct contact and have that point of contact, and they know they can have that dialogue with,” Spurgeon said.

Even as they enjoy the slowdown, Spurgeon said the detectives are staying ready.

”There’s that X factor, that unknown. We just don’t know,” he said. “There could be a homicide happening right now, and we don’t know that, and in the moment that it happens, we have to drop everything and go”

As of Sept. 20, Indianapolis stands at a total of 192 homicides on the year.

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