Mayor Greg Ballard isn’t known as a hands-on leader.
His deputies have led efforts to add bike lanes, replace the city’s vehicle fleet with hybrids, and underwrite downtown developments like CityWay.
But simply setting a vision won’t work on crime. It’s time for Ballard to roll up his sleeves, put aside partisanship, and lead on the issue he promised five years ago would be “job one.”
There are no easy fixes for the ugly crime wave this summer. A toxic mix of poverty, unemployment, guns, drugs and desperation can’t all be bottled up and kept under control by more cops on the street.
But more must be done to keep the peace, particularly downtown, where large groups of unruly teens and Saturday-night shootings are putting at risk billions of dollars of public and private investment in the convention and tourism business. Every shooting on the Central Canal or outside Circle Centre mall erodes confidence.
The mayor’s staff points to statistics showing overall crime is down this year. That’s hard to believe given the only crime statistic that can’t be manipulated—the murder rate—is up more than 40 percent. But no matter: This is a perception game, and persistent impressions are left by high-profile incidents like the murder of a 16-year-old July 4 at one of the city’s busiest downtown intersections.
Most of Ballard’s “new” cops on the street are reassigned neighborhood resource officers. Promised future recruiting classes could add 100 officers by 2016, but that won’t even replace those expected to retire.
Ballard vetoed a $6 million allocation from Rebuild Indy funds to pay for new officers. Democrats on the City-County Council picked the number because it matches the amount Ballard is spending on an international sports park including cricket fields.
The mayor cited the need for a pay-as-we-go approach to public safety, arguing the city should use only dedicated, recurring funding sources.
That might sound fiscally prudent, but it’s less so when you consider how much Rebuild Indy money the city is spending on routine road maintenance, and how many dollars of public investment are riding on public safety. The city has borrowed endlessly via a downtown tax increment finance district to keep downtown’s momentum going with new projects.
If crime spirals out of control, the hotels won’t fill beds, the restaurants won’t seat tables, and the convention center won’t reserve its massive halls. And good luck with that bid for the 2018 Super Bowl.
Ballard should call together officials with IndyGo (which ferries many of the trouble-making teens downtown), Simon Property Group Inc. (which manages Circle Centre mall, where large groups of teens gather) and Indianapolis Downtown Inc. to discuss ways to keep crowds under control. And he should ask for help from Democratic Marion County Sheriff John Layton and the state police.
Marshal your resources and find new ones. All the freshly paved roads and bike lanes and new downtown apartments won’t matter much if the residents don’t feel safe.•
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