20198 homicide graphic

(Recorder Graphic/John Hurst)

For the first time since 2012, the overall homicide rate in Indianapolis dropped. However, the city’s Black community faced an increase in homicides, with 75% of Indianapolis victims in 2019 being Black, up from 73% in 2018.  

According to Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department (IMPD), there were 153 reported murders in 2019, down from 159 in 2018. Out of the 153 murders in 2019, at least 115 victims were Black. 

The city’s homicide rate has been a dark cloud over Mayor Joe Hogsett’s administration, with the number of homicides hitting an all-time high in 2015, Hogsett’s first year in office.

“While I am heartened that overall crime is trending down in Indianapolis and last year saw a decrease in the number of homicides, there is still more work to be done,” Hogsett said in a statement. “Together with our public safety agencies and grassroots community partners, we begin this new year with a continued dedication to making our city a safer place for all.”

In an interview with the Recorder, Hogsett cited initiatives such as the Peacemakers program as the most important investment the city has made to reduce violence. The Peacemakers are a group of individuals who work in neighborhoods to prevent conflict before it turns violent. But the most important change Hogsett believes is necessary to continue to decrease violence is a return to beat policing. 

“We have attempted to change the IMPD into a truly 21st century police department whose job it is to protect and serve the people throughout our community,” Hogsett said. “When we return to a community-based, beat-oriented policing, officers have more of an opportunity to get out of their cars and interact with residents and merchants and retail establishments, and hopefully that not only allows law enforcement professionals to be more proactive to prevent crime, but … also increases the amount of respect and trust that the community has for IMPD and vice versa.” 

Recently-appointed IMPD Chief Randal Taylor sees the importance of beat-policing in decreasing violent crime. 

“We can make arrests, and the detectives do their job, and they hunt down leads, and they build probable cause and they get warrants for people who’ve committed crimes, but there’s always someone there to take their place,” Taylor said. “When you start looking at beats … your goal is to start building the relationships prior to people making those poor decisions of going off and pulling triggers. Hopefully, you’re being an encouragement and a sign of hope for that young kid that needs someone to listen to him and being in those beats allows you to do that to some extent.”

And while Hogsett has significantly increased the number of police officers on patrol — with a net increase of over 150 officers over the past four years — policing may not be the only thing needed to decrease crime in the Black community. Community advocate and Recorder columnist Marshawn Wolley believes crime will only be decreased with a focus on one of its root causes: poverty. 

“Beat policing can be impactful, but really what you’re dealing with is the economic indicators, food insecurity, housing and the lack of hope,” Wolley said. “Those are the challenges you have to figure out how to address.” 

Census estimates from 2017 found that Indianapolis has a poverty rate of 20%, but an estimated 28% of the city’s Black population lives in poverty. 

According to Environmental System Research Institute (ESRI), “people living in households in the U.S. that have an income level below the federal poverty threshold have more than double the rates of violent victimization compared to individuals in high-income households.”

To combat poverty, the Hogsett administration has implemented several programs and initiatives that focus on employment and education, including Indy Achieves, which helps individuals get a postsecondary education. 

“The Indy Achieves model is not one of our making,” Hogsett said. “We actually became aware of a successful scholarship aid and grant completion program out of Georgia, and simply investing in young people and their opportunity to have more than a high school diploma … moves the dial in terms of racial disparities in their communities that existed prior to those programs being made.”

Hogsett said violence in Georgia didn’t stop altogether after the education program was implemented, but the rates of violent crime — both in terms of the victims and the perpetrators — was more reflective of the community. 

“Georgia experienced more balanced representation in people who chose to engage in violent behavior,” Hogsett said. “The statistics were more reflective of their community as a whole, but not disparate over and against one race compared to others. Obviously, the goal would be to end violence in every neighborhood, but we have a profound commitment to make sure that the type of violence we experience does not disproportionately affect one community over others.” 

As of Jan. 13, there have already been 10 homicides in 2020. At the time of reporting, at least five victims were African American. 

Contact staff writer Breanna Cooper at 317-459-8747. Follow her on Twitter @BreannaNCooper.

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