Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett and officials involved in the city’s gun-violence-reduction strategy held a press conference Thursday to announce progress two years into their three-year $150 million plan.
David Muhammad, who is working with the city on the strategy, said the latest statistics show decreases in criminal homicides and non-fatal shootings that exceed expectations.
Muhammad, the executive director of the not-for-profit National Institute for Criminal Justice Reform, told reporters that officials aimed to see a 10% annual decrease in murders and non-fatal shootings.
After a record high of 271 murders in 2021, the city saw a 16% reduction in murders and a 14% decrease in non-fatal shootings in 2022, followed by a 19% decrease in murders and a 7% decline in non-fatal shootings in 2023.
Officials pointed to improvements in 2023. For the first time in four years, Indianapolis didn’t surpass 200 murders. At 171 criminal homicides, the city had a decrease of nearly 19% when compared to 2022, outpacing a national decline of 13%.
Criminal homicides differ from overall homicides, however, because the figure does not include accidental shootings. Indianapolis had 216 homicides in total in 2023.
Muhammad said at the press conference that the gun-violence-reduction strategy created by his Oakland, California-based not-for-profit and Indianapolis officials “is not focused on trying to prevent such tragic accidental shootings.”
The city also saw annual decreases in other kinds of crime in 2023. According to a press release, non-fatal shootings decreased by 7.3%, robberies declined by 4.3%, and aggravated assaults fell 6.5%. Total violent crime decreased 7.4%.
“While declines are what we want to see, even a record decline cannot speak to the experience of every resident,” Hogsett said, before noting that separate shootings over the New Year’s holiday weekend took the lives of three people in Indianapolis.
Muhammad credited the improving numbers to a higher level of specificity within the police force and work by the Indy Peace Fellowship, which employs 60 peacemakers in the Office of Public Health and Safety.
“There is a review of every single homicide and every single injury shooting that has a likelihood of retaliation,” Muhammad said.
Detailed analysis and discussion pinpoint incidents that could escalate into a retaliatory shooting, Muhammad said, helping determine when to use focused deterrence. Focused deterrence puts more police attention on high-risk individuals, and 100 Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department officers do that work, he said.
Other individuals that have risk factors but have not been convicted of a crime are referred to the Office of Public Health and Safety and the Indianapolis Public Safety Foundation for the Indy Peace Fellowship, he said.
“The level of finding those individuals, engaging them and getting them to agree to be in this fellowship, to have a life coach for the next six, 12 [or] 18 months, that has been particularly successful,” Muhammad said.
Those peacemakers aim to “interrupt” instances when violence seems likely, such as when an individual is involved in a non-fatal shooting and might retaliate. Deputy Mayor Lauren Rodriguez said the data bears out a need to continue funding intervention efforts, which were included in the 2024 budget as the initial $150 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds allocated for the plan’s implementation run dry.
Youth involvement in gun violence is increasing, Muhammad said. Still, 88% of all shooting victims and suspects in 2023 were adults, he added.
Youth gun violence “is a point of concern that the city is planning to address specifically,” he told reporters.
Looking ahead to 2024, Rodriguez said the city’s public safety stakeholders will “really hone in” on prevention efforts.
“Those youth are going to become adults, right? And they’re going to play in these statistics later on,” Rodriguez said. “So how can we prevent that from occurring in the future?”
The Office of Public Health and Safety has hired an assistant director of social determinants of health to work under Office of Public Health and Safety Director Martine Romy Bernard-Tucker. The office is also seeking a prevention manager who would focus specifically on youth-involved violence in Indianapolis. That job will entail overseeing prevention efforts for accidental and intentional shootings and attempting to curb youth access to guns, Rodriguez said.
The office will also expand another non-police intervention, the Community-Led Clinician Response Team. That team has begun operating at all hours in IMPD’s Downtown District, Rodriguez said. The program currently has 22 clinicians and has responded to 134 calls. The office is actively recruiting clinicians in order to expand to IMPD’s East District, she added.
The city will also continue to dole out funds in the form of “elevation grants” to local organizations. The grant program is backed by $45 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds. The fifth round of grants is currently taking applications.