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NOTIONS: Crime watch through the window and video screen

June 11, 2007

It was Friday evening, June 1, after 10 p.m. My wife, my son Zach and I were enjoying a late dinner at downtown's Rock Bottom Brewery when all hell broke loose.

We were seated indoors, near the front window. Many patrons were seated outside in the sidewalk section.

I was looking toward the outdoor tables beyond Zach's shoulder when I saw a skinny, shirtless young man zoom by on a bicycle. The bike was the size I rode when I was 4 years old.

Suddenly, an Indianapolis bicycle patrol officer shot past on the street. In a flash, the bike cop cut between two cars parked parallel on Washington Street. He pulled in front of the kid on the sidewalk.

The kid dumped his bike, tried to run and found his way blocked. With both hands, he grabbed hold of the heavy metal fencing surrounding the adjacent restaurant's outdoor seating area. He held tight as the cop approached from behind.

In one fluid motion, the officer radioed for backup, grabbed the kid 'round the chest and heaved. He lifted the perpetrator straight off the ground and yanked him backward. The kid pulled the fence with him, finally let go and both men fell to the pavement. It was a tackle worthy of the Indianapolis Colts' Bob Sanders.

The officer got the kid to lie face down and bound his hands behind him. Just then, multiple squad cars came screaming to the scene, their lights flashing and sirens blaring.

For nearly half an hour, at least seven officers huddled at the scene. The fellow in command was a stocky, cigar-puffing, uniformed officer. He blocked two lanes of traffic with his squad car parked the wrong way on the one-way street.

The police frisked the bad guy, asked him questions and eventually sent him away in a paddy wagon. Then the officers talked some more as the backed-up traffic on Washington Street squeezed through the lone open lane.

Throughout the altercation, folks inside and outside Rock Bottom continued to eat their meals, chat with the staff and crack jokes about the live entertainment. Pedestrians passed by on the sidewalk and smiled. A woman seated outside pulled out her camera phone and took pictures of the arrest.

When we left the restaurant around 11:30, I asked the waitress if there was a midnight encore. She said we'd caught the only performance that evening.

Crime is no joke, of course. And if you watch the news, read the papers and listen to politicians, you'd swear it's worse than ever. Based on some of the neighborhood association meetings I've attended-in the city and the suburbs-you'd want to install a panic room in your home, slipping out only to restock your disaster supplies.

But something surprising happened last week. The FBI released a report on violent crime statistics for 2006. Nationwide, the number of violent crimes was up 1.3 percent. Large cities saw the biggest increase, especially in their murder rates. But while Indianapolis suffered the same sad murder spike, ours was one of the few cities in which the overall violent crime rate actually declined.

While crime stories frequently lead the news in this city, the report that Indianapolis' overall violent crime rate decreased was buried in a single sentence on page A3 of the local paper.

Buried, too, was a note that our mayor, in his role as president of the National League of Cities, is working with local officials nationwide to secure more than $1 billion in annual federal funding to "restore stretchedthin police departments back to their full force."

That funding would be welcome. But it is, regrettably, an infinitesimal fraction of the tens of billions being spent annually to fight violent crime in our 51st state, Iraq. And it won't, by itself, solve the underlying problem.

A few weeks ago, following a meeting of a not-for-profit board on which City-County Councilor Rozelle Boyd and I both serve, the two of us walked together a few blocks. We talked about the escalating number of murders and rapes in our city, and the recent spate of attacks on elderly citizens, and the apparent fearlessness and emotional detachment of some of the young perpetrators.

And I shared with Rozelle my fear that some of this emotionless behavior may be a less-understood byproduct of video entertainment.

We've often heard that violent entertainment begets violent behavior. But I worry, too, about another factor: video games, TV shows and movies that too seldom humanize victims, depict their pain or address the agonizing ripple effect on families and loved ones. In fact, in most video games, victims get right back up to be killed again.

Is it any wonder, when nice middle-class folks sit in the brew-pub window, sipping sodas and snapping pictures of a police bust, that a few young people, numbed by pain-free shoot-'em-ups, feel no emotion while beating or killing a fellow human being?



Hetrick is chairman and CEO of Hetrick Communications Inc., an Indianapolis-based public relations and marketing communications firm. His column appears twice monthly.To comment on this column, go to IBJ Forum at www.ibj.comor send e-mail to bhetrick@ibj.com.
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