By Johnny Magdaleno | Indianapolis Star
Feb. 15, 2021
As homicides climbed toward an all-time high last decade, Indianapolis’ gun violence prevention work was underfunded, understaffed and poorly coordinated, according to a report obtained by IndyStar.
The report relies on data and interviews with public safety leaders working across the city that were collected in late 2019 and early 2020. It hurled a number of critiques at the city but reserved its sharpest ones for IMPD.
Indianapolis commissioned the Oakland, California-based National Institute for Criminal Justice Reform to help the city reduce firearms deaths. The nonprofit finished the report in May 2020, but it was never shared with the public.
Neither the city nor IMPD denied the observations featured in the report. When asked why they didn’t share it publicly, they said that they circulated the report with City-County Council members and community organizations involved in gun violence initiatives.
After its review of programs and law enforcement in Indianapolis the nonprofit found that:
- Indianapolis was spending much less on community projects aimed at reducing violence than Oakland, Washington D.C., and Stockton — three cities with a smaller population than Indianapolis that the non-profit is also consulting.
- IMPD may have been hampered in gun violence investigations because its crime analysis units worked in silos and weren’t sharing data. “It is currently possible that three separate IMPD units could be investigating the same person for three different crimes and be unaware of it,” the report reads.
- IMPD was not regularly collecting information on “gangs, cliques, or groups”, even though most people who commit gun violence belong to groups or crews.
- IMPD officers were critical of how their agency was being managed. “Across the board, IMPD staff feel understaffed and that previous realignments throughout the agency have caused certain violence reduction and violence responses to be hampered,” read the report.
- One law enforcement officer described gun violence prevention initiatives as misguided. “There is a small, small number of people shooting” in Indianapolis, said the officer, but the city is “not focused enough on the shooters.”
- City-backed “call-ins,” or group interventions aimed at stopping shootings, weren’t targeting people with the highest risk of carrying out gun violence, according to feedback from “call-in” participants.
- No one agreed on why gun violence had become the crisis it is known as today, making it difficult for stakeholders to create and execute a plan that would produce lasting impact. “When we met with community members, service providers, various divisions of IMPD, the County Prosecutor’s Office, Marion County Probation, and others, everyone had different perspectives on why gun violence is high in Indianapolis,” the report reads.
Access the entire report [on the IndyStar.com page for this article].
Indy begins an overhaul
Since the report was finished, Indianapolis has begun an overhaul of its gun violence work. The city’s latest crime grant funding boosts the number of community outreach specialists who work to dissuade residents that are most likely to commit gun violence. The National Institute for Criminal Justice Reform is helping six other cities launch or manage similar programs.
To date there are only 12 such outreach specialists in the city — half are contracted by the city, and the other half are contracted by the Indy Public Safety Foundation. But the report said that 16 are needed to bring significant change to Indianapolis’ homicide numbers.
The city told IndyStar that these initiatives are in their pilot phase and that it’s possible they will provide funding for more outreach specialists in the future.
Inefficiencies in public safety
In the past, Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett has pointed to the pandemic and economic inequality as drivers of homicide rates, which have trended upwards since 2012.
“This dynamic is playing out in every metro in the nation no matter the demographic of residents, the party in charge, or the state the city calls home,” Hogsett said in October, after Indianapolis broke its all-time criminal homicide record.
That month, a spokesperson for Hogsett’s administration suggested the rising homicide rate could partly be tied to people struggling to recover from the 2008 recession. “These systemic issues have grown over time, and the only way of addressing them is to work to ensure better opportunities for all Indianapolis residents,” spokesperson Mark Bode said.
It is true that socio-economic factors play a major role in urban violence. It is also true that Indianapolis is not alone in its battle with an intractable homicide problem.
A study by the National Commission on COVID-19 and Criminal Justice published in January found that homicide rates were up 30 percent on average in 34 U.S. cities compared to 2019, while property and drug crimes fell across the board. Indianapolis was not included in the study.
But the National Institute for Criminal Justice Reform report suggests that Indianapolis’ careening homicide rate can also be tied to inefficiencies in how the city manages public safety.
“Despite the great work that partners in Indianapolis are doing, those efforts are not effectively having a significant impact on gun violence in the near term as indicated from the rate of homicides and shootings over the last five years,” said the report.
Righting what’s wrong
The nonprofit was brought in by the Hogsett administration near the beginning of what became the most violent year on record in Indianapolis. In 2020, there were 215 criminal homicides in the city, the vast majority of which were firearm related.
Indianapolis has paid the nonprofit $125,000 since 2019 to provide technical assistance on gun violence reduction strategies. Their current contract with the city ends in December this year.
Representatives with the city’s Office of Public Health and Safety and IMPD said they welcomed the report’s critiques and have been working to address them.
“We’ve been continually implementing new strategies,” Matthew Thomas, a major in IMPD’s criminal investigations division, said. “And this report provides another perspective for us to create new ideas and new conversations and continue this path forward.”
IndyStar pressed further, and asked why the report was only shared with internal groups when the broader public has an interest in knowing how well the city is responding to its gun violence crisis.
“I would say these groups aren’t internal groups,” Tim Moriarty, special counsel to Mayor Hogsett, said. “I mean, they’re community organizations. So this report was publicly made available, I truly think it was.”
What’s important is that stakeholders are already acting on the report’s recommendations, city representatives said.
Bode told IndyStar the report was one factor that influenced the City-County Council to approve $4.63 million in grant funding for anti-crime initiatives in the city’s 2020-2021 grant cycle. That represents an increase of almost $1.6 million when compared with the 2019-2020 grant cycle.
Thomas also said IMPD is tightening its crime analysis work and opening up doorways for units to be able to share data. He said they are launching new investigation tools around social media to improve how they track the activity of gangs, cliques and groups in the city.
Call IndyStar courts reporter Johnny Magdaleno at 317-273-3188 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @IndyStarJohnny