Providing legal alternatives for young black men who might otherwise turn to violent crime and drafting their parents to help with crime prevention are central to a plan to curb violence in Indianapolis announced by community leaders Wednesday.
"Much of this violence is robbing us of an entire generation of young African-American men," Mayor Greg Ballard said.
Pastor Charles Ellis, a member of a local community action group called the Ten Point Coalition, said 73 percent of the murders last year in Indianapolis involved young black men. That came in a city where the black population is about 28 percent, according to the 2010 Census.
Last year, the city shifted 100 officers to patrol duty to help combat crime. Despite that, Indianapolis suffered 125 homicides in 2013, its highest tally in seven years. This year, violence is on track to outpace 2013, triggering cries for action.
"This is a lot of angst for us," Ballard said.
Officials at Wednesday's announcement said providing alternatives to street crime, even if it is more profitable than honest work, is essential, and called on families to watch for signs that their young members are turning to crime, such as the arrival of unexplained, expensive big-screen TVs.
Public Safety Director Troy Riggs said city officials are working with state legislators to toughen up penalties for gun crime, but he said the most good in lowering violence would be done at the family level.
Riggs reminisced about his "paycheck-to-paycheck" family discussing problems around the dining room table during his youth.
"We need to look at violence as a family matter," he said.
Johnny Willis, 21, said social services guided him into a construction career after a friend and his younger brother were shot. Even when crime is more financially profitable than working, remaining honest pays off, he said.
"You don't have to always worry about looking over your back," Willis said.
The concept isn't new; Similar plans were proposed by public-private partnerships in 1998 and 2008. This year, officials hope that adding improved access to social services will break the cycle.
Ballard said summer work programs and family counseling services already exist, but that many people in troubled areas simply aren't aware of them.
"The help is out there for people who want it," Ballard said. "We haven't done a very good job of telling people these services are there."
A series of public service announcements is intended to raise awareness, and the city will add two employees to its 2-1-1 information call center to direct callers to services that can help them combat crime budding within their families.