Indianapolis officials offered a stark look at the violence the city experienced in 2020, including a record 215 criminal homicides, and what they hope 2021 will look like for public safety.
The COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent economic fallout have been a backdrop for almost everything related to crime for the last 10 months. Crime experts predicted early in the pandemic there could be a decrease in property crimes, for example, with more people at home during the day, and those projections held up.
The year that was
Property crime decreased by 11% from 2019 to 2020, including a 25% reduction in burglaries, according to preliminary data shared by Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department. Violent crime fell 3.5%, and overall crime dropped 8%.
Homicides trended in the opposite direction, with criminal homicides up nearly 40%.
There were another 30 non-criminal homicides in 2020, which includes justified killings such as self-defense. Gunshot wounds accounted for almost 90% of homicides, according to an Indianapolis Recorder review of IMPD data.
Officers are “frustrated and disappointed,” Chief Randal Taylor said, because of the rise in homicides.
The number of non-fatal shootings also rose 41.6%.
Researchers with the National Commission on COVID-19 and Criminal Justice found similar trends in other cities, where homicides, aggravated assaults and gun assaults rose sharply beginning in late May into June.
“While that in no way excused or diminished even one killing in our city, we must seek to know why this is happening to better combat this deadly virus,” Mayor Joe Hogsett said.
Public safety in 2021
IMPD will add two more Mobile Crisis Assistance Teams (MCAT), which pairs officers with a clinician from Eskenazi Health to respond to calls related to mental health or substance abuse. MCAT is part of the department’s Behavioral Health Unit, which identified 3,585 follow-ups in 2020 and made 1,144 home visits, according to IMPD.
Assistant Chief Chris Bailey said the department is working with the Office of Public Health and Safety to add clinicians to the 911 call center to better help people experiencing a mental health crisis.
Shonna Majors, the city’s director of community violence reduction, said part of her team’s gun violence reduction strategy will involve weekly meetings with IMPD to review shootings, including non-fatal shootings. Majors directs a group of “Peacemakers,” who intervene in situations that have or could become violent.
IMPD will begin to gather feedback this year on how the community wants officers to change traditional police responses to low-level, non-violent issues such as vehicle accidents with no injuries. Officers spend too much time responding to non-emergencies, Bailey said, so developing a more efficient approach would allow officers to respond to calls where they are actually needed.
Reason for hope?
The pandemic, along with protests and riots in the spring and summer, threw off some of IMPD’s plans for the year and made Chief Taylor’s first year on the job one with constant adjustments.
There will always be distractions and obstacles, though, so what is it about the city’s plans that should make the community hopeful for a better 2021?
“We’re gonna focus like a laser this year,” Hogsett said.
One area where IMPD continues to put its faith is in the Crime Gun Intelligence Center, which helps identify and arrest serial shooters. The center removed 288 guns and arrested 302 people in 2020, according to department data. Indiana State Police will become a partner this year.
The pandemic may also lead to a more streamlined workflow, as the department realized it doesn’t need every officer and detective in the same place doing case work.
Contact staff writer Tyler Fenwick at 317-762-7853. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick.