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Wednesday, May 22, 2024

A new normal: IMPD sweeps neighborhood with services, says more actions to come

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Tuesday morning was a frigid one. The first snow accumulation of the season brought hazardous driving conditions and several facility closures. Despite the less-than-ideal elements, a group of IMPD officers, service providers and clergy took to the streets for what the department is calling a quality of life enforcement action.

“This is the first step toward relationship building,” Lt. Brian Churchill said to the group gathered in the sanctuary of Shepherd Community Church. Though the officers were fully suited in their uniforms, Churchill reminded them that they were not there to be the police. Their purpose Tuesday was steeped in offering a helping hand to a community in need.


A preventative measure 

Churchill, who serves as the Community Engagement Office coordinator, shared that this action is an attempt by the department to introduce a new form of protection and service.

“A few months ago, there was a double homicide on 22nd and Bellefontaine. East District went and did their crime activity sweep, hit that neighborhood to wipe out the crime. We then went and did this on a small scale, offering help and services. You know what those people told me, the folks that committed those crimes didn’t live in their neighborhood,” he recounted. “They said, ‘We’re trying to turn our neighborhood around, take care of our houses and have a nice community. They brought the crime to us, and after that the police brought the enforcement to us.’ They got hit with a double whammy. 

“(Cops) were towing grandma’s car, writing a mother a ticket, jacking someone up for a driving warrant. They’re like, ‘We’ve been victimized twice.’ It was a hammer and anvil sort of thing. That got me thinking that what a neighborhood really needs is this kind of help prior to a homicide, prior to a law enforcement sweep.”

The area of focus was a segment of the near-eastside neighborhood bordered on the north by Michigan Street, the east by Linwood Avenue, the south by New York Street and the west by Grant Avenue. This particular zone was chosen based on a data inquiry that came out of the Social Disorder Index (SDI), a new tool introduced by the department this past summer that collects information on police runs based on the nature of the call and the geographic area in which the actions have taken place. The department was looking to serve a place hardest hit by lack of social services. The neighborhood has also had a large number of police runs recently related to mental health issues, violence, drug overdoses and domestic disturbances. 

“The police see it all the time. My whole career, we see the problem and all we can treat is the outcome of the problem,” said Churchill. 

Churchill said the formulation of this initiative stemmed from several people in the department having ideas on how they could better address the needs of the community. One of those people, James Waters, transitioned from his role in East District to a new post as assistant chief of patrol after the new administration came in under Chief Troy Riggs. In Waters’s new role, he is able to implement many of the ideas he’d already been working on.

“I was his assistant on this,” shared Churchill. “We had an immigrant outreach and community assistance program in East District. Southwest had a behavioral health person from Eskenazi, but no police partner.” Churchill noted that the thought currently is to do these things, and more, on a citywide scale as a way to deal with issues holistically.


A welcome, helping hand

The action this week consisted of officers and service providers walking door to door offering residents everything from connections to utility assistance, food, Christmas gifts, flu shots, health insurance and several other forms of help.

In all, officers met with 200 families, Gleaners Food Bank provided more than 300 meals, and one officer dressed as Santa Claus met and provided toys to an estimated 450 children. 

Officer Larry Adkins, who led a team through the area, shared that he believes what the department is doing is a much-needed upgrade. In his 14 years with the department, he has experienced several moments where people needed a bit more than the typical police presence. 

“I will never forget the time I went to the home of a young lady and she was pregnant. She was having an issue with her boyfriend. I went out there, and by the time I arrived, he was gone. I believed there was something going on, but she was trying to protect him,” said Adkins, who shared that after their conversation, he filed a report and went the extra step to connect her with resources.

“This was years ago, and you have many officers who always went that extra mile, but it was individually motivated. It wasn’t a practice; it wasn’t anything that was policy-driven. I think policy should play a part in reinforcing or supporting officers, but it shouldn’t be the driving force. At the end of the day, officers have to want to help other people.” Adkins says otherwise, people will know it’s not genuine. 

Officer Vincent Stewart, who has been with the force since 2007, walked alongside Adkins and others, visiting with residents.

“There are so many people that look at the police so poorly,” he said. “There are a lot of things that we do behind the scenes that people don’t know. This is a way for us to show that we really do care about the community.”

Emma Murphy, who has lived in the neighborhood since 2006, said the area has had its less-than-stellar moments. “My garage has been broken into several times,” she told officers. She was happy to see them come by. “I love it, it’s a good idea, really. Just having their presence here helps a lot.”

Beyond the door-to-door visits, other outreach teams went through the streets to invite residents to the corner of New York and Gladstone, where many of the services were being provided.

Neighborhood residents Ashley and Kiera, who chose not to share their last names, visited to get food packages. “I think it’s an improvement, because a lot of people look at police like it’s a bad thing,” said Kiera. “I think it will bring people together in a way.”

Though this was the first large-scale quality of life enforcement action, Churchill said it would not be the department’s last. “This is going to be a slow process, but the more we do it, the more we take the dots off that map,” he said, referring to the SDI. “The less crime there is, maybe the less hostility toward police. Perhaps this means that the quality of life goes up and crime goes down, and people see us as a resource as opposed to an adversary or an opponent.”

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