by Chris Bavender
It’s been a year of changes for public security in Indianapolis: Mayor Joe Hogsett took office in January 2016 and appointed a new chief, Troy Riggs, to lead the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department (IMPD). Those changes at the top have had an impact on Midtown—from implementation of beat policing, to providing wraparound social services for those in need, to increasing the number of drug arrests and reducing the number of homicides.
Chief Riggs attributed that impact in part to the overarching goals and objectives he set for the department to strengthen relationships with the community. Those goals: reducing crime, reducing fear of crime, and enhancing public safety.
“We have to make sure we give the best possible information to our officers. I want them to come to work every day with a goal in mind so that when they have some down time they’re working on their goal,” Riggs said. “That’s not how a lot of police departments operate but that’s how IMPD’s going to operate.”
So far, the approach is paying off.
“We are pleased by early results in the beat areas. Also, the information received from the neighborhoods is allowing us to address drug dealers in the community,” Riggs said. “The results are impressive. Around 106 pounds of drugs—ranging from heroin to meth—were taken off the streets citywide and there was an increase of nearly 20 percent in arrests involving guns from 2015. It is important to remember that this new approach only began in June,” he noted. “It took us the first part of the year to get reorganized.”
North District—where Midtown is located—had 41 murders in 2016 as of Dec. 1, compared to 43 through the same period in 2015. Eleven of the 2016 homicides occurred in Midtown, compared to 23 in the area in 2015. Those statistics include North District’s Zone 10 and Zone 50, which cover about 90 percent of Midtown.
“As with the trend of homicides citywide, North District has seen a reduction this year over last year as well as in nonfatal shootings,” said North District Commander Chris Bailey. “We still have more than the average, and I don’t like to celebrate the fact they are down a bit because it can change in a heartbeat.”
The Crown Hill neighborhood is one example. The area marked one year without a murder on Nov. 6 with a peace walk, only to have that change Nov. 11 with the fatal shooting of a man in the 3600 block of Kenwood Avenue.
“When we had a homicide on the 370th day, the residents were just visibly upset that it had been broken—they had taken pride in that, and on the day the homicide occurred we had people ready to talk to police about what they knew about it. We had not seen it happen before like that,” said Rev. Charles Harrison, who leads the Ten Point Coalition. “Sad to have that homicide but exciting to see the pride people are taking in a neighborhood that is traditionally high-crime. They are determined to go another whole year without a homicide.”
Harrison said the partnership between the coalition—whose goal is to reduce violence and homicide through direct engagement—and IMPD played a big role in the Crown Hill area going a year without a murder.
“We really coordinated our efforts and were getting a lot of intel from residents about threats in the neighborhood and drugs issues, and we were making sure that whatever info we got we acted on quickly,” Harrison said. “Whenever I called Commander Bailey and passed along info, he got on it immediately. We were on the phone weekly. There were things we could not do that IMPD could and things 10 Point could do that IMPD could not.”
Clark Kirkman, president of the Butler-Tarkington Neighborhood Association, said Harrison helped Butler-Tarkington weather a “terrible storm” last year when a violent situation appeared to be spinning out of control.
“He inspired residents to march and make a showing that our neighborhood would not tolerate that type of activity,” Kirkman said. “We’re happy to have him and the Ten Point Coalition’s continued presence, and I’m excited that other areas such as Louisville, Kentucky, are taking notice and looking to import the model.”
Kirkman also has high praise for Bailey and believes the neighborhood is fortunate to have a person of his caliber leading IMPD in the area. “He has been very generous with his time, joining us for many of our public safety walks and participating at our meetings and those of other neighborhood groups,” Kirkman said. “His level of dedication to community engagement is a difference-maker.”
‘When people see us taking action on their tips, then they are more likely to get tips to us. That is our goal—better customer service in those beat areas.’
—IMPD North District Commander Chris Bailey
Rob Sabatini, public safety director for the Broad Ripple Village Association, agrees. “I can sum up public safety improvements in the Village during the past year in two words: Chris Bailey.
“Commander Bailey is open to suggestions and open to listening to people,” Sabatini continued. “He really believes Broad Ripple Village should be safe enough to take his kids out on a Saturday night. And it is.”
Sabatini has operated bars and nightclubs in the Village for nearly 25 years and worked closely with IMPD to designate Broad Ripple as an entertainment zone with increased public safety focus. “I think that people got a wake-up call a couple of years ago,” he said, referring to shootings, assaults, and robberies in the past. “Commander Bailey is not willing to put up with that. It’s a very mellow time for the Village now—it’s safer.”
A look at the number of drug and vice arrests as well as guns seized and drugs taken off the street in North District since Vice/Narcotics and FLEX teams started operating at a district level in May shows how beat policing and officers’ visibility and relatability is working.
North District has made 247 drug and vice arrests, taken 84 guns off the streets, and confiscated almost $68,000 and 25 vehicles through the end of November 2016. In that same period, 1.5 pounds of cocaine, a half a pound of heroin, almost 20 pounds of marijuana, and a half a pound of meth were seized.
“We are getting more information from the community than ever before based on relationships developed with beat officers and community relations officers. People are calling me and reporting crime and drug houses and we are trying to be more reactive to their needs and not make them wait as long to get a response,” Bailey said. “I think when people see us taking action on their tips, then they are more likely to get tips to us. That is our goal—better customer service in those beat areas.”
In addition to getting drugs and guns off the streets, recent sweeps have also focused on helping those left behind who may be in need of social services.
“The partnership with Indianapolis Emergency Medical Services and their core teams and relationships with Eskenazi Health and mental health practitioners now available to us at the district level have helped us try to deal with core issues of crime and give officers a different avenue instead of locking people up,” Bailey said. “It has helped us reduce
some call volume and arrest statistics because we are not arresting just solely because there is nothing else to do with them. We have new options to deal with those issues.”
A new app called Community Cop will also give officers an option to immediately address the systemic issues that drive crime, such as unemployment, food insecurity, and mental illness. IMPD partnered with Bitwise Solutions in Carmel to create the program, which will allow officers to immediately make referrals intra-agency or to external human and social services agencies throughout the community.
“More specifically, an officer will be able to make a referral from a laptop or smartphone and hopefully build trust through demonstrated concern,” said IMPD Assistant Chief James Waters, who leads IMPD’s Patrol Division. “My hope is that all Indianapolis residents will begin to see the beat officer as a resource, instead of just a cop who sends people to jail.”
Goals for the Community Cop app include:
- Help those who IMPD encounters receive assistance in a timely fashion in hopes of minimizing or eliminating the likelihood of a criminal offense.
- Help reduce cases through the criminal justice system by better leveraging existing community assets.
- Assist IMPD to track referrals, create new profiles, and search existing ones.
- Increase referrals by facilitating communication between IMPD and social services agencies.
It’s a good start, Riggs said, but “much more needs to be accomplished. We will build on the social disorder index by adding further data elements to identify underlying issues and expand it to encompass the entire IMPD service area. We will also add various social services to the officers’ ‘toolbox’ to continue to address those underlying issues,” Riggs said. “We will grow our Real-Time Data Section within the Information and Intelligence Center and continue to build on our data driven approach to policing using a CompStat method that incorporates detailed data analysis, creative and holistic solutions, and relentless follow-up.”
As for Midtown and North District, Bailey has several goals for 2017. He’d like to expand on the number of meetings held each year with pastors from the hardest-hit crime areas (the group met three times in 2016) and “adopt” abandoned homes. IMPD could work with residents to keep the grass cut or to board up houses when needed—“projects we can partner with residents on to make a difference in their small part of the world,” he said.
Other goals Bailey has for Midtown/North District include increasing bike patrols in neighborhoods, increasing the number of citizens who do ride-alongs so they see what officers do every day and how they can help, and partnering with IEMS on projects like East District’s Shalom Project, to have an officer and EMT ride together to deal with issues.
“There’s still a lot of work to do and issues to deal with before we see the long-lasting change we all want,” he said, adding, “I don’t deserve credit for any of the good stuff. I have a good team.”
A version of this article appeared in the December 2016/January 2017 print edition of the magazine.