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Indianapolis grasps for answers in violent year

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Two men in bright yellow safety vests stroll through a rundown neighborhood where boarded-up houses and padlocked storefronts stand as silent witnesses to a wave of street violence that threatens to taint the reputation of Indiana's capital city.

As they trade small talk with women and children sitting on their porches, the men from the Ten Point Coalition aren't just being friendly. They're trying to keep people from killing each other — part of a broad effort to tamp down the bloodshed using methods old and new, proven and unproven.

The number of homicides in Indianapolis is increasing at an alarming rate, putting the city on pace to have its deadliest year in at least eight years. Already ranked 22nd on the FBI's list of deadliest cities, the city could move up and rival its 162 killings in 1998, the worst year on record, if the hot summer months accelerate the violence as expected.

The statistics are a blemish on a city better known for its hospitality, business-friendly environment and well-received hosting of the 2012 Super Bowl. Leaders desperate to stop the bloodshed are struggling to find a solution.

Mayor Greg Ballard has met with gang leaders and city leaders proposed about $29 million a year in tax increases to add nearly 300 officers to the police force by 2018. Police have beefed up street patrols, hosted neighborhood meetings and expanded the presence of McGruff the Crime Dog in classrooms to reach kids before they drift into deep trouble.

Members of the Ten Point Coalition, a faith-based group of ministers and community leaders, have targeted two of the most troubled ZIP codes with regular visits in hopes of steering young people down a better path.

But the numbers keep climbing.

Public-safety officials have repeatedly said that roots of the city's violence run back through decades of poverty and broken homes, and that the problem is too big for police to handle alone.

"I think sometimes everybody wants some magic approach that's going to do away with it in six months," said Public Safety Director Troy Riggs. But, he added, "This didn't happen overnight or over the last decade."

Indianapolis has spent decades reinventing itself from a sleepy place derisively nicknamed "Naptown" into an urban mecca that has world-class museums and hosts large conventions and national sporting events. Its unemployment rate ranks among the bottom third among U.S. metropolitan areas, and the city's suburbs are some of the fastest-growing communities in the country.

That makes the rising number of homicides, which this week hit 60 for the year so far, even more startling.

Columbus, Ohio, a Midwestern city of similar size, had 92 slayings in 2013, compared with 125 in Indianapolis, and has had 40 so far this year. Chicago, with a population more than three times that of Indianapolis, had 414 killings last year and 115 through May 18.

Most of the Indianapolis slayings have involved criminals killing other criminals. That prompted members of the Ten Point Coalition to host a recent church dinner for gang members, who talked about what their lives are like.

"Some of these young men talked about basically having to raise themselves. One said his father was a drug addict and his mother was an alcoholic, so all he knew was street life," said the Rev. Charles Harrison, president of the coalition. It's a familiar story. One gang member spoke of having to take care of his mother and baby brother since he was 13 years old.

Besides Ballard's proposed tax increase, authorities have discussed adopting a strict curfew to keep young people off the streets late at night and creating programs for community policing, summer jobs and after-school athletics. Other proposals include offering parenting classes and making a $75,000 investment in the city's 211 hotline to connect families with social services.

But those who work the streets say those ideas are just part of the puzzle.

Derek Jefferson, a city pastor who lost two close relatives to shootings this year, believes police need to become part of the neighborhood hot spots.

"Police are so stuck in their cars. They are so stuck in their offices ... they need to get out of their cars and walk the streets," he said.

For others, the solution is jobs.

"Jobs would be major incentive to keep these young men from hanging out on the street," said Harrison, of the Ten Point Coalition. "They need jobs with livable wages."

The Rev. Horatio Luster, another member of the Ten Point Coalition, said police, community centers and churches are doing their part. What hasn't been tried enough, he said, is working with individuals instead of groups.

"We need to change the way these kids are thinking," he said.

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  • INDY NOT DECLINING LIKE DETROIT
    To commenters saying Indy is turning into another Detroit and especially to Randy who flatly said that Indy's population decline in the "old city limits" was worse than Detroit some facts. From the Census Bureau. In 1970 Detroit's population was 1.514 Million. Indy, old pre Uni_gov boundaries was 451,000. In 2010 Detroit population was 713,000. Indy pre-UniGov boundaries, aka the IPS School district boundaries was 297,000. The decline in Detroit's population over those 40 years was 52.8%. The decline in Indy's old city boundaries was just 34.1%. In actual numbers, Detroit fell 800K. Indy fell 154K. Apples vs Bananas
  • Jobs..Training..Caring!
    No gives a hoot about these young black youth.. police want more police, not the answer. The state and the city council wants to provide another study... not the answer. The concerned clergy wants to provide more services and get more grants....not the answer. The Answer: Jobs and training. We need to offer young inner-city youth viable training so they can compete and provide for their young families... No one wants to provide any help so they go to the next best thing, guns and violence and gangs....Its a no brainer folks!....Just try it!. give them a logical out to put down the weapons and stop the violence by making a decent living by getting trained to make a decent living. Phillip Sebree adztec@hotmail.com
  • Stop impersonating me
    Again IBJ please make it you have to set up your own account to comment. These impersonators need to be banned and it needs to stop. Its ILLEGAL and i've about had it.
  • Detroit
    The Indianapolis comparison to Detroit is sadly spot-on. Indianapolis city limits (prior to UNIGOV) has actually had a bigger percentage population decline than Detroit! All UNIGOV has done is mask the true problems of Indianapolis. We really are no different than Detroit or Gary.
  • Detroit 2.0
    The answers are sort of easy to find if you have the courage to be honest: 1. Our city's decision to pour money into downtown to the detriment of the rest of the city is an epic fail. 2. The sports and convention economy we've built has not led to a rising economic tide across Marion County. 3. Indy's inferiority complex has led to horrible decisions and malinvestment that will take DECADES to fix, that is, if we start now, which we have no intention of doing. It is sad to see what this city has become, but violence is the logical outcome. Like Detroit, we continue to pour scarce resources into downtown as the city around it dies. Wake up, Indy. It's sort of obvious, don't you think?
  • Joe is only partially correct
    The suggestion that Judges and courts are releasing people back into the streets is silly...Judges are elected officials...they absolutely don't want to have someone they released go commit another murder...that's bad politics...the fact is, until the criminal code changes in July, most people sentenced to prison get a day of good time credit for every day they spend in prison, so if they are sentenced to 10 years they do 5, plus they can get more credit for educational achievements, vocational achievements...the most violent crimes are exceptions, but that is the law...bust the legislators if you don't like it, but all but the absolute most violent offenders are going to come back to the community at some point. The new criminal code is likely going to put more law breakers on the street for the local community to deal with also...the penalty for many crimes has been lessened, the theory being that the most violent criminals need to do more time, most everyone else will do less time or no time (that is an oversimplification, but on it's face, accurate)...Rapists and murderers, if they are caught, will do most of their sentence under the new laws, but in general, this law was passed to save money at the state level for the IDOC, your favorite pols are seeking to keep more criminals out of prison, I believe they said they were trying to bring "common sense" to the criminal code...I find it laughable that the poor deluded souls who have written here are advocating "lock 'em up and throw away the key" and "building more prisons" when your elected officials have written laws designed to do the opposite...lessen the current prison population so that the state won't spend so much on incarceration, with the stated aim of not building more prisons... do any of you even pay attention to what the legislature actually does? Or do you just figure they are taking care of you because you agree with them on their social agenda...most drug offenders will be on the street under the new code...Ironically, Concerned Citizen notes that Clinton and a Republican congress worked together to reform welfare there were improvements...none of our bought and paid for legislators on either side of the aisle will even consider doing something like that now...it is a national and local disgrace...and the ridiculous comments that it is just "criminals killing other criminals" are just proof that there are a lot more people who think they are part of the 1% that are really part of the 99%...Joe is right about the sports and entertainment...it may be a tax payer subsidized jobs program, but it keeps tons of people employed...if every program we invested tax dollars in reaped those kind of benefits, and produced that number of jobs, we wouldn't have the situation we have.
  • WOW
    You are soooo correct !!
    • So Many Comments
      So many good comments on here. Italiano yes we are a world class city ! although you do not like it most of the jobs we have gained are because of the "football fields" that created hundreds if not thousands of jobs not to mention support the growth of the convention center, creating more jobs and the "basketball fields" that have created more jobs ! wake up a look around please people ! without the Colts, Pacers, Indians, symphony, zoo, children's museum etc where would people work ? Would we have hotels, restaurants, specialty shops, give the sports and entertainment a rest it is old tire and stupid argument ! How many people work in the support industry because of sports and entertainment ? With out bankers life where would singers, high school and colleges do their thing ? quit looking at sports and entertainment. If the Pacers, Colts and Indians pulled out tomorrow where would those thousands of people work ? What restaurant, hotel or specialty shop wold be open ...... Since it is a crime problem and we have determined that it is criminal on criminal with a few innocent bystanders involved, and the police are patrolling and making arrest ! Maybe we should look at the Courts and Judges that are releasing these criminals back to the streets. Indianapolis is run like the Indiana Department of Conservation ! Law enforcement makes the catch and the Judges make the release !!
    • Wow
      You want to have the most immediate and significant impact on crime in this city? Start by handing out maximum sentences to criminals and STOP WITH THE EARLY RELEASES! All most of these killers have previous records and a good deal are the beneficiaries of an early release due to overcrowding. Nothing pisses me off more than to hear about a murderer who SHOULDN'T even have been back on the streets in the first place. If over crowding is really the issue then, by all means, BUILD MORE PRISONS! I'm sure the taxpayers would unite for THAT tax!
      • Poverty
        The issue is clearly tied to economics of poverty and welfare which becomes a self-perpetuating cycle. Parents do not have the funds to support their kids which leads the kids or young adults to develop funds on their own. It is probably hard for them to justify working at $10 to $15 hours a day when they can sell drugs, etc. and probably make 10 X, 20 X or 100 X times this amount. While this creates short term economic well being it does so at significant risk. You can also add welfare to the list of grievances as this system abdicates personal responsibility and creates a society of "victims". It is not their fault there are no jobs and they must be helped or they will not survive. Ironically, when Clinton and Republican Congress jointly worked together to reform welfare and limit access they saw increases in employment and economic well being. Take the freebies away and watch how many people return to the work force. Some will go down a dark path of crime but many will go to work. Once they start to have the pride in work their situation will continue to improve. Once their situation improves, they can start to improve the situation of their children. Why the Great Society people can't look at statistics and see epic failure of their policies I don't know. More welfare, has led to greater unemployment, greater poverty, greater numbers on the food stamp dole, greater numbers on disability, and greater numbers living off the government teat.
      • There are jobs
        With all due respect to Rev. Charles Harrison, a lack of jobs isn't an issue, as there are plenty of jobs available in Indianapolis that pay a good wage. I would venture to guess that the issue is that there is a lack of job skills in this particular group of individuals. You're not going to get a job paying $13, $14 or $15 an hour if you can't read/write, show up on time every day, follow basic directions/work instructions, and leave your cell phone alone. Get some skills. Get a good job. That's the answer. Not the other way around.
      • Too Many Cooks in the Kitchen
        It sounds like the Ten Point Coalition needs a unified strategy. It sounds like the members are all focused on different strategies: reducing unemployment, increasing social services, beefing up police presence, etc. The takeaway, meanwhile, is that the number of homicides is climbing and there are certain parts of the city that I avoid like the plague.
      • PS
        Indy has a murder rate that EXCEEDS Chicago, New York, Boston and Columbus Ohio. I guess we have to be tops at something.
      • Re: Italiano
        Italiano, don't forget about the "World Class" CRICKET fields!! What a fool out crony capitalist mayor is.
      • Blub
        So, Indy has gone from "naptown" to a "world class city" (ha). Unemployment is "down" and WAGES are LOW (the article forgot that point. Why you ask!!! Because to become a "world class city, we have squandered our resources on Football fields and Basketball fields and Baseball fields and soon to be Soccer fields and...and...and.. We are reaping what we sew, and are a "world class murder capital"
      • Evan
        Evan there is no doubt that your statement is true that most of the murders are criminal on criminal drug and gang related crimes. The problem is that the criminal element is growing in correlation to the growing segment of the population that has been driven to government induced poverty. I am seriously, we have had welfare and other programs for generations, and the ghettos just keep expanding. Politicians keep offering more support and programs in exchange for votes. It has done nothing to help the poor and has stripped them of their ambition and purpose in life. It is soft slavery. Separately, IMPD needs an all hands on deck approach. No more cops writing speeding and parking tickets and other petty nonsense. All officers need to be on the front lines where this crime is happening.
      • solutions
        I love how the right-wing is the first to complain about welfare, but also the first to want to take away the right to birth control and abortion. Proper sex education and access to all family planning services would do a LOT to cut down on crime.
      • Welfare and single moms
        All these parentless kids...that's the issue. Parents NOT BEING PARENTS. Having babies they can't afford and being rewarded by taxpayers for it. Need more money? Have another baby even when you can't support the ones you already have. It's disgusting to me. Then these "parents" burden taxpayers with these kids they can't/don't want to raise.
      • Key point
        "Most of the Indianapolis slayings have involved criminals killing other criminals." This is all the article needed to say. Let the thugs continue to kill each other. All the liberals who blame this on Mayor Ballard need to find something new to whine about.

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      1. Uh, sorry Johnnie, but you are incorrect. Despite the assertions by yourself and various defenders and captains, sports attendance is NOT off significantly at most sporting events in the US. Variances in attendance has been in the range of single digits, both + & - for years now. MLB has had most of its best overall attendance nubers in the last decade, and that trend has been consistent for most major sporting events. The number one issue cited by most fans when asked about attendance is the overall cost of attending. The presence of HD and big screen televisions in home doesn't even register, as a factor for not attending an event. VALUE in the product is the key, and apparently is something lacking in the current ICS. What other explanation is there when with what is routinely touted as the "best" racing on the planet, fans are staying away in DROVES. A "close" title battle into the last event at Fontana, with the "cars and stars" of the ICS, and who showed up? MAYBE 8K. Sorry, but HD TV isn't to blame for that kind of fan apathy.

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