(The Center Square) – Faced with record-high violent crime, the city of Indianapolis is spending millions of dollars to hire and train “interrupters” whose job is expected to be to interrupt crimes and report back to headquarters.
The program is one piece of a $150 million anti-violence plan the city is executing to try to stop violent crime.
The murder rate in Indianapolis has doubled in the last seven years, from 135 homicides in 2014 to 271 last year.
While the Indiana General Assembly focused on passing bills this year to crack down on what it called lenient sentences and cash bail for violent offenders, the city has focused on its “peacemaker” program.
In a presentation to the Indianapolis City-County Council this week, an employee of Mayor Joe Hogsett said the city is adding more employees to the program, and the goal is to have 50 “peacemakers” working in the city in the next few months.
The “peacemakers” include “interrupters” whose job it is to interrupt a conflict as it’s happening.
Each interrupter must keep copious notes, said the city’s Office of Public Health and Safety Director Lauren Rodriguez, and must meet goals, which include interrupting 12 conflicts in the first three months of the year, 24 in the second three months, and 36 in the third and fourth.
“If they are just at the store, I know last year we had a lot of reports where our interrupters went out to gas stations and saw a conflict arise or they were told, ‘Hey, you need to go here’ by another community member and they were able to interrupt some type of issue that was going on,” said Rodriguez.
Interrupters, she said, have to respond to non-fatal shootings and also to homicide scenes, and must take notes recording the location of the interruption, the potential for retaliation, the “potential fellow” identified and the services that were provided and also any involvement with guns, drugs and gangs.
The program also includes outreach workers, whose job it is to assess those at risk of committing violent acts and refer them to life coaches. The life coaches, also part of the program, build a relationship with the “fellows” and help them find services that they need.
The peacemaker program is aimed at what the city considers to be “high-risk individuals” at a high risk of committing gun violence or becoming a victim of it. To qualify, they must have been previously shot, have a close friend or family member who was shot in the last 12 months, or be either associated with a group or gang. Other criteria include being between the ages of 18 and 35, being a black or Hispanic male, unemployed or underemployed and be a high school dropout.
The city has spent a total of $5.9 million so far on the program, which began in January, with $4.7 million spent on personnel, more than $500,000 on administration and $66,000 on branding and communication.
“MILLIONS MORE SPENT…WILL THEY PUBLISH THE LIST/OUTCOMES??” tweeted Rick Snyder, president of the Indianapolis Fraternal Order of Police, linking to a local story about the peacemaker program.
The program is being paid for using federal American Rescue Plan funds. Of the total of $419 million the city received, $150 million is to be spent to put the city’s anti-violence plan into action.
The idea of using interrupters to stop crime in the neighborhoods was tried in Chicago but stopped in 2015 as crime in the city continued to rise and the city ran out of money.
Many of the “interrupters” who worked on the Chicago program, called CeaseFire, were former gang members and had criminal records.
In 2013, according to a Chicago Tribune article entitled “Anti-violence programs shut down as Chicago shootings climb,” then-mayor Rahm Emanuel decided not to review a $1 million contract for the program in two neighborhoods after the Chicago police complained that CeaseFire staff were refusing to share information with them, and after reports that some employees of the program were “getting into trouble of their own.”
Originally published by The Center Square. Republished with permission.