Indy Star on 12/19/2018 by Suzette Hackney
The overall crime rate continues to fluctuate in Indianapolis — with notable downward trends in important categories — but the number of homicides year over year won’t budge.
In fact, the city is on track to set a record for homicides for the fourth straight year.
More alarming is that neither Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett nor Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department Chief Bryan Roach can explain why our homicide rate remains so stubborn, refusing to mirror declines in other violent crimes such as rape, robbery and aggravated assault.
“I wish I knew,” Roach said.
On Tuesday, Hogsett and Roach held a media briefing at the John H. Boner Community Center to offer the community a public safety update and outline plans for 2019. I attended with the expectation that Hogsett and Roach would roll out yet another shiny initiative to address crime in Indianapolis. I was pleasantly surprised by their stand-pat approach.
It’s encouraging to see officials refrain from implementing new policing strategies, and instead double down in areas where improvements have been discernible, including tracking serial shooters, increasing officer staffing levels and citywide beat policing, investing in technology and offering intervention services for those most at-risk for criminal behavior.
After all, it can often take several years to determine whether crime-fighting initiatives have been successful or a bust. Hogsett and Roach are wisely avoiding another overhaul of the department and its policies, an action that could be perceived as desperate panic.
Instead, they stood strong as city leaders Tuesday, looking at reporters and community members who gathered with resolve. They pushed an overarching message: There is no single, easy or quick solution to combat the scourge of violence in our city, but there is hope in a 5-percent decline in violent crimes during the first nine months of 2018.
“One homicide is unacceptable for our community,” Hogsett said. “With the possibility of setting another record this year, I take great hope…at the downward trends that we have seen. But there’s nothing to celebrate in terms of overall crime reduction.”
Still, hope doesn’t stop a bullet.
For the law enforcement community and for elected officials, particularly Hogsett, who is seeking reelection, Indy’s homicide rate is their biggest challenge. Fair or not, it’s the only number that counts when assessing the safety of a city. It becomes a barometer for progress, dictating whether business growth will occur in certain areas or whether transplants will invest in home ownership.
Still, the decline in overall crime suggests that IMPD — and by extension Roach and Hogsett — is doing something right. During the first nine months of this year, rapes were down 3 percent; robberies declined 14 percent and aggravated assaults were down 3 percent, according to IMPD statistics.
Another important gain: IMPD detectives increased their homicide clearance rate from 42 percent in 2017 to 65 percent through Dec. 10 of this year, Roach said.
Clinging to signs of progress isn’t a bad thing. But if Indianapolis is to continue moving in the direction we all want, the downward trends in crime must become permanent. And it’s difficult to feel reassured when there is daily bloodshed on our streets.
To be sure, Indy’s 154 criminal homicides investigated by IMPD detectives this year — one death away from matching the total in 2017 — instills frustration and fear among many Indianapolis residents.
But urban crime remains a complex issue. Lack of economic opportunity and joblessness, the lure of easy money through the drug trade, an abundance and ease of obtaining illegal guns, the rising demand for heroin and other opioids, concentrated poverty and the lack of respect for human life — all fuel the violence we see daily on our TVs and read in our newspaper.
Roach said the key to sustainable crime reductions is addressing those underlying issues. It’s not the only answer, he said, but it does offer hope that they are on the right track in slowing the killings.
We must cling to that hope. Because there is no place in Indianapolis for this kind of violence.