Let’s say you’re one of Indy’s bad guys, with a felony record. You serve your time, get out, get back together with your associates.
Then you start seeing these same police officers over and over again. Sgt. Brian “Smoke” Dixon, 47, chewing on a sandwich and staring balefully at you from across the street.
Or maybe, you spy Detectives Jose “Bam” Navarro and Daniel “Breezy” Brezik, both in full tactical uniform, strolling past your domicile. Or Detective Kory “Black Magic” Dickerson nods at you from his squad car.
Are you living in a bad dream? No. You’re just on the radar of the Street Operations Group (SOG) of the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department (IMPD).
The group has been together since August 2014, assembled under the direction of IMPD Chief Richard Hite.
“We don’t hide, we like to be proactive,” said Dixon. “It’s not all about putting on the handcuffs, although we do that well.”
What does the team want? To become a household name.
“We pass out business cards, we give out our cell phones (numbers),” Dixon said. “Yes, we kick in doors, we go after the bad guys, but if there is someone who has a change of heart, who truly, truly, sincerely wants to change, we also help them with that.”
He paused. “We have one guy, won’t mention his name, but we chased him for quite a time, and he hasn’t been in trouble since. We had a chitchat with him. He was very cordial. He wants to change his life.”
“He’s trying to change his life, take care of his kid,” said Brezik.
Dixon explained the mindset of someone ready for a change: “I’m tired of killing people, I’m tired of being shot at. Can I contact one of these guys and do something. We pride ourselves on speaking to people with respect as long as they allow us to.” But how can those habitual offenders, which Hite and other top cops argue are almost entirely responsible for Indianapolis’ homicide rate, leave their criminal lifestyles?
“We have partners we go to and say ‘hey, he’s been clean a year or two. Can we get them a job doing something?’” commented Dixon. “(It’s) to help them, give them a feeling of self worth, keep them from kicking in someone’s door and taking what it is that they need.”
The direct connection with the criminal element is what sets the SOG apart, Dixon said. “We’ve always had gang units, we’ve always had narcotics units. Those are more of a covert nature. Street operations, which is us, was put into place to be more of a laser approach as opposed to a shotgun approach. We concentrate on high-crime areas where we’ve had recent homicides.”
Indianapolis, of course, continues to have street gangs. Navarro stated there are smaller groups, closely tied to local neighborhoods.
Dixon concurred. “It is not uncommon to have a 42nd Street feuding with 34th Street type thing. Also, the public needs to know it’s no longer about who wears red, who wears green, who wears black, it’s all about money,” he said.
The gangs frequently change their names, said Dixon. “It’s common for these guys to change clique names every other month. Like we used to have a clique called the Knock Out Boys, they went to Drop ‘Em Squad.” Although Indianapolis also has a motorcycle gang presence, other officers are tasked with monitoring them, Dixon said.
How do the gangs make their money? “We’ve seen everything,” Dixon responded. “They make money via drugs, they make money via prostitution, they make money via selling cars, (you) name it, it’s there.”
Hispanic gangs have a significant presence in Indianapolis, including Mexican gangs, and tend to maintain their names, the officers said.
City residents continue to demand answers from IMPD about the homicide rate. Like Chief Hite, Dixon points to the offender population. “You have 2 to 3 percent of the citizens committing 95 percent of the crimes. It’s the same people being locked up and let out. It’s not the good citizens, it’s not those who are trying to pay their way and do it right. We have a situation that goes beyond the court system, the police department and the justice system.
“It’s hard to combat violent crime when you’re dealing with young men and women, who have no hope.”
The question remains, why become a police officer?
“We do this job, it’s not just a job, it’s who we are,” said Dickerson. “It’s become a lifestyle. We are that middle ground of good and evil. We sit and eat together every day. We enjoy being around each other and we enjoy what we do. It takes a special person to call themselves the police.”
“I tell people on several occasions, when they say negative things toward us, ‘you don’t even know my name. You don’t know if I’m married, if I have kids, but the fact of the matter is, if you called or if someone caused you harm, they would have to go through us first,’” said Dixon. “We don’t know a lot of people whom we serve, that we protect. That matters not. I believe this is a calling from God almighty, and I am not ashamed to say it. It’s like the scripture says, ‘blessed are the peacemakers.’ We don’t do it for fame or fortune, obviously. But it is truly a calling, that is much more than a mere career.”