Indianapolis invests $ 45 million to stem the tide of homicides

INDIANAPOLIS – Shantone Hopkins sat outside a doctor’s office last year, feeling the sharp pain of the gunshot wound that severed an art...


INDIANAPOLIS – Shantone Hopkins sat outside a doctor’s office last year, feeling the sharp pain of the gunshot wound that severed an artery in her left leg and brimming with anger at the former partner who she said , had shot her during a domestic quarrel.

As she waited for treatment, Ms Hopkins recalls, the desire for some form of revenge against her six-year-old girlfriend lurked in her thoughts. “I thought about violence,” she said in an interview. “I had just been shot, so who doesn’t think about it?” “

It was then that she was approached by Iwandra Garner of Eskenazi Health, a public hospital network that treats patients in Indianapolis and surrounding Marion County. Victim advocates like Ms. Garner seek to reduce the number of gunshots and stabbing by advising against impulsive retaliation. Eventually, Ms. Garner persuaded Ms. Hopkins to participate in the program, which also offered assistance with housing, food and other basic needs.

“They helped me not get any further into my dark place,” said Ms Hopkins, 31, who is now limping and scored her shot by having the date tattooed on 1/19/20 on her. left hand above a small purple heart.

Indianapolis and other cities, where leaders are struggling to find ways to stem a two-year rise in homicides, are subsidizing small local programs like Ms. Garner’s in an effort to prevent further violence. These groups focus on reducing all violence, although homicides have become the priority given the increase in numbers. The impact of these programs is still unclear, but the size of Indianapolis’ investment – some $ 45 million over the next three years – speaks to the urgency of the moment.

Indianapolis is one of at least 12 cities that have seen a record number of homicides this year, along with Philadelphia; Louisville, Ky .; Albuquerque, NM; and Portland, Oregon. By early December, more than 250 people had been killed in Indianapolis, surpassing the record 215 dead last year, according to the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department.

The city’s efforts to reduce the grim death toll – gunshots injured at least 700 people this year – have included millions of dollars over the past few years in some 30 community groups working to reduce violent crime . The city government plans to use federal Covid relief dollars to dramatically increase the allocation to $ 15 million per year, from $ 3 million.

Criminologists say similar efforts in the 1990s, in which officials from various towns, police and community groups worked together, led to a decline in violence during that decade. Paul Sharkey, professor of sociology at Princeton University, published a study in 2017, this indicated that in any city of 100,000 inhabitants, there was a 9% drop in the murder rate for 10 nonprofits that organized to tackle violence at the local level. But cities rarely give these organizations the money they need to survive, he said.

Indianapolis is committing $ 150 million for public safety out of the $ 419 million it received as part of the US federal bailout. In addition to $ 45 million for community organizations, other measures include the hiring of 100 new police officers.

At Eskenazi Health, the Prescription for Hope program works with gunshot victims between the ages of 15 and 30. Of about 600 gunshot or stabbing victims brought to hospital each year, about 100 agree to participate, hospital officials said.

The program aims to help victims or abusers break out of the cycle of violence, said Dr Lisa Harris, CEO of Eskenazi Health. “We see violence as another one of those chronic diseases that overwhelm the people we serve,” she said.

Before the hospital started the program, about 35% of gunshot victims returned within two years with another violent injury, she said, but that number fell to 5%.

Ms Hopkins said the Prescription for Hope program changed her life by introducing her to other victims who were able to come out of these situations after talking about them. She said she saw what happened when the cycle continued. “All you see is people dying, all you see is violence, all you see is crazy stuff,” she said of her daily life. Rather than thinking of revenge, the program helps her seek redress in court.

However, some critics question the continued funding, given the sharp rise in the number of murders.

“Townspeople look at it and say, ‘We’ve been funding these kinds of programs for several years now, what difference has really been made? “Said Paul M. Annee, a City-County Republican member. Advice.

Eric Grommer, a criminologist at Indiana University-Purdue University of Indianapolis, said that despite some preliminary indications the programs had had an impact, there was not enough data to conclude that they were effective. .

Indianapolis officials believe even a glimmer of change makes the programs interesting. “It’s not a magic wand that we’re going to give this money and aha, there are no more homicides,” said Lauren Rodriguez, director of the city’s Office of Public Health and Safety. Homicides fell in 2019, the first year after Indianapolis launched its series of programs, which indicated the city was on the right track, she said.

Although there is not a single explanation for the increase in murders, the mental and financial strains caused by Covid-19 are among the possible causes, with the pandemic also interrupting many awareness-raising efforts to reduce violence.

In addition to the Eskenazi program, Indianapolis has turned to many other nonprofits for help. The National Institute for Criminal Justice Reform helped create the model for broader grassroots involvement, including the training of 50 “switches” who can step in and advise anyone involved in a recent incident.

A study by the institute showed that, like in many cities, a relatively small number of people instigated most shootings – of a population of 850,000, only 400 people were linked to 70% of incidents in Indianapolis. And these people are more likely to trust someone from their own neighborhood, especially those who have withdrawn from a violent past, the study found, rather than the police or any other government official. .

The murders in Indianapolis are particularly pronounced in the poorest neighborhoods in the east. The Reverend David Greene Sr. of Life’s Purpose Ministries, a 1,000 member church, enlisted the help of Eskenazi Health to train 10 worshipers as mental health counselors. “With these people facing the trauma of their lives, the grieving of their lives, just trying to find meaning and move forward can be a challenge,” he said.

The gunshots are frequent enough in the east and other neighborhoods to have become a background noise. Countless street lights and electric poles are decorated with teddy bear thickets, roadside memorials to the dead. Stuffed animals stay there for years, becoming soggy and warped under the elements.

Another nonprofit group working with the city, Eclectic Soul Voices Corporation, mentors teens referred to court for repeated gun violations.

Austin Juarez, 18, was 8 when he saw his first gunshot victim, a man lying on the ground, bleeding in the middle of his neighborhood playground. He was 13 when he acquired his first firearm, and over the following years he was charged three times with unlawful possession of a firearm.

More than 10 friends have been shot.

“You get numb,” he said. “I have no feelings for him. If someone dies, I pay tribute to them and that’s it. I can’t cry about it. He added: “It just happened so much.”

Aaron Green, the street outreach coordinator for the program, helped Mr. Juarez complete his high school equivalency exams and nurture his dream of opening a Mexican restaurant. He doesn’t try to dissuade those he supervises from carrying guns but to follow the law and think differently, to avoid being impulsive, to walk away.

“The day I tell one of these kids to stop carrying a gun might be the last day I see him,” said Mr Green, who was 17 when his own father was fatally shot by a teenager in drug trafficking.

Not all cases are success stories. Last summer, one of Mr Green’s brightest teens, whom he described as a little brother, was arrested for murder.

Yet he persists. “If we can help them make a good decision rather than a bad one, we have to count the wins.”

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