I look at sporting events the way Fred Flintstone would look at the bridge of the Starship Enterprise. But even though I do not know sports, but I do understand the fundamental truth that everyone loves a winner - and life is lot easier for you when you do win.
I was Downtown Saturday night in my favorite cigar bar and watering hole as the Pacers played the New York Knicks at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. There was a lot of excitement in the room as the Pacers and Knicks went back and forth with the Pacers walking away with a win and moving on to the Eastern Conference finals. I watched happily as Spike Lee walked away dejected, his team in defeat.
The Pacers have come a long way from the "Throw Down in Motown" a few years ago. This was not the team that seemed to be in the news every other day because someone was engaging in thuggish behavior. I used to joke that if a Pacer ever fired a gun at you, not to worry. If he shot the gun the way he did the basketball, it would never hit you. The team has come a long way since then.
Winning is not only the best way to have all your prior sins forgiven, but if you have to ask for some assistance down the road, say if you're negotiating a new deal over the operational costs and management of Bankers Life, you can negotiate a lot better if you have a championship under your belt than if you don't. When you win, fans show up. They come not only to the stadium, but they come to all the places around the stadium. There are tens of thousands of jobs that are attached to a viable Downtown and when the Pacers win, they help make the case that they are a valuable asset to the community and it makes it easier to make the ultimate sales pitch that we all know is coming.
Now, with Indianapolis strapped for cash in a lot of places and revenues not being up to pre-recession levels in the foreseeable future, some tough negotiations are going to be in order over Bankers Life. I don't think the city should rollover and give the Pacers whatever they want but we should take into account they are a winning team that does add to the quality of life in both tangible and intangible ways. Winning makes life easier, but not necessarily on the wallet.
Hopefully, as the city and Pacers go forward post-whatever happens on the road to the championship all parties will keep in mind that winning is great but being mindful of the taxpayers' wallets is more important. Somewhere in there is a happy medium, best of luck to both teams in finding it.
Readers offered some pretty interesting feedback to last week's column about crime in Indianapolis, which is good because violent crime continues to trend in the wrong direction.
Our city's criminal homicide rate is still ticking upward, according to the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department's website. In the week ending March 9, logged 22 murders for the year. By March 16, they'd reached 27. Granted, those figures are preliminary, but they indicate a 50 percent increase over the same period in 2012. Aggravated assaults were still up, but only 4.3 percent; they were up 5.6 percent the week prior. One promising stat: Crimes against property this year are down 11 percent.
So how do we deal with crime — youth violence, in particular?
Rev. Charles Harrison of the Ten-Point Coalition, a local organization that has been dealing with violence on the streets for years, gave me some sage wisdom in a conversation. He said things are not so bad that they are spinning out of control, but it is not out of the question for things to get to the point where crime spreads out to Hamilton, Hendricks, Hancock, Boone and Johnson counties.
Rev. Harrison suggests holding parents accountable for the actions of their kids, especially if the kids are out after curfew. State law already allows for fines to be levied against parents if their kids get out of control and that just might be the way to go. A number of you echoed that position via e-mail and Facebook. One person even suggested that if a juvenile commits a crime with a gun, then the parent should be criminally charged with neglect. Others have suggested denying certain public assistance benefits to problem families and mandating counseling.
Another idea floated involved a safe have partnership between the city, businesses, churches and colleges and universities to partner over the spring and summer. Local churches would provide the space, businesses would provide funding, colleges and universities would provide the students for positive mentoring and tutoring and the city would oversee the entire program. Thus kids would be off the streets and connected with positive role models.
In addition, the city needs to continue to step up its game, not so much in more police on the street, but by using some of its other agencies to shut down crime hot spots. It has already begun with closing down some of these banquet and dance halls, which are serving as havens for underage drinking parties. But it should also go after apartment complexes and other facilities that just breed the criminal element. Have any of you been near 42nd Street and Post Road lately? If so, you know exactly what I am talking about.
To keep crime from getting out of control a comprehensive approach is in order. The city not only needs to get tough, but smart on crime. To their credit, Public Safety Director Troy Riggs and IMPD Police Chief Rick Hite have already created efficiency teams to analyze resource deployment and the root causes of violence. My hope is that by summer we will be more worried about mosquitoes and less about bullets.
You've probably noticed that Indianapolis has seen a sharp increase in the number of criminal homicides as of late. According to the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department's web page, as of the week ending March 9, the number of murders was at 22. That number was 17 as of last year, which makes for a nearly 30 percent increase. Not good news by any measurement. However, before I jumped to the conclusion as to whether we were turning into Dodge City, I looked at a couple other crime stats, aggravated assaults, residential burglary and vehicle thefts.
Here is what I found:
Aggravated assaults were up 5.62 percent, from 249 last year to 263 this year. This is important because in many instances the aggravated assault would have turned into a murder had the assailant had better aim or the emergency medical response team got there a little later. I then looked at residential burglaries, because these types of crimes can really hit home (pardon the pun), those were down more than 11 percent from 1,809 in 2012 to 1,598 in 2013. And then finally, vehicle thefts, which are often crimes of opportunity because someone left the keys in the car, those numbers were also down slightly more than 11 percent from 1,008 last year to 891 this year.
Why did I look at those numbers? I am a firm believer that when you look at crime, you should take a comprehensive look at statistics. Had we seen steep increases in all four of those areas, I would really start to worry, particularly since this is only March and if things were that bad when it was still cold outside, just wait until the criminals decided to step out and get some fresh air and enjoy the nice weather. By seeing drops in residential burglary and vehicle thefts and the aggravated assault rate increasing only by single digits, that tells me that there is ample time for the public safety community and law enforcement to get things under control.
However, with that said, the increased murder rate is still disturbing, especially since for the last three years in a row the city's murder rate has been less than 100, and no one can remember the last time that happened. What I am hearing from my friends who work in public safety is that a primary reason for the increase in murders can be tied back to drug dealers stepping up their "collection" efforts. In other words, man owes drug dealer money, man doesn't pay, man ends up in a box. For example, the recent shooting at Lafayette Square where the victim was found with in a car with a gunshot wound to the back of the head, all signs point to a drug dealer trying to collect and send a message to the rest of his or her debtors. Unfortunately, this is the end result of what happens when you engage in counterproductive behavior, bad things usually happen that involve gunfire. And unfortunately, they can escalate, sometimes even at funerals where innocent people get hurt when they are caught in the crossfire.
So what is the answer to all this? I have a few ideas, but they will have to wait until my next column. In the meanwhile, feel free to let me know what you think. You can e-mail me at email@example.com or leave a comment here at NUVO.net. Heck, if you have a good idea, I'll be happy to steal it, since we are talking about crime and all.