Troy Riggs, police chief of Indianapolis, has been at work to determine ways to reduce the city's crime rate long before holding the position.
When previously titled the director of public safety of Indianapolis, Riggs assembled an efficiency team to help look for the most challenging issues the city faced: crime and quality of life issues. The efficiency team narrowed it down to six intersections, spanning eight square miles of land, where 4.7 percent of the population of Indianapolis resides.
Indianapolis is approximately 400 square miles with a population over 820,000. According to Riggs, only 42,000 people live in the six intersection areas that account for 30 percent of the city's homicides and 30 percent of all nonfatal shootings. For the people in these select few neighborhoods 25-35 percent of the houses are vacant (on average), the schools are struggling with high expulsion rates, unemployment is at 23 percent, and 14 percent of all mental health/emotional runs that EMS makes in this city take place.
In those six intersections, Riggs and his team looked into health department cases, occupancy rates, marital statuses of its residents, education levels, income, expulsion rates and reasons, and juvenile crime breakdowns.
Riggs was raised in an area of Louisville, Kentucky that was "fairly poor." Riggs said that most of the families were able to make ends meet and feed their families. However, as he got older he noticed that a lot of the kids he'd grown up around weren't going to college, and instead getting into trouble. Riggs said that those who did succeed at finding successful careers were in decent schools, had parents at home who cared for and mentored them and participated in faith-based organizations as well as extracurricular activities.
Riggs noticed that the people who didn't have that stability were the ones getting into trouble and beginning to collect drug charges.
"We grew up in the same area. We had the same education. But there were some differences," Riggs said.
Now as the police chief of Indianapolis, Riggs is looking into neighborhoods in Indianapolis and seeing the same types of situations.
"How do we stop crime long-term? It's by meeting the needs of young people today," Riggs said. "And young people today, in these areas that we talk about, face a far more difficult challenge to be successful than I ever did."
Riggs has heard complaints span from physical hunger to an apathetic city — Indy's youth feeling as though no one cares for them or their futures.
"That's troublesome to me," Riggs said. "That's not what a normal teenager is usually concerned about."
The race to Indianapolis' youth is a common theme amongst the city's leaders. Both Riggs and Mayor Joe Hogsett see a correlation between helping Indy's youth and reducing the crime rate.
According to Riggs, Hogsett is raising money for a summer jobs program because he sees that as an opportunity for kids to have someone to feed them, look after them, make some money, and mentor them during the summers.
"It gives kids opportunities and by expanding that it's going to help other kids," Riggs said.
Riggs also added that in looking at data from other cities that have created summer job programs, the crime rates for "petty" types of crime, including street robberies, are drastically reduced when kids have the responsibility of a job.
"The mayor's vision of really strengthening that and making it a collaborative effort among a lot of partners is very wise and will help us greatly in the summer," Riggs said.
But it will take more than creating a summer job program to help reduce the crime rate in Indianapolis.
"We need to start thinking of our city as a family ... and when one part of your family is hurting you go and you help," Riggs said. "We have 42,000 family members that live in areas that are troublesome right now and a great majority of those individuals are law abiding citizens just trying to make ends meet day in and day out. We're only talking about a handful of people that are causing issues for others."
According to Riggs, in order to positively affect the crime rate long-term, it's important to understand that issues like hunger, mental illness, vacant housing, job opportunities, and re-entry after incarceration play a vital role.
"How're you ever going to get your mental illness issue dealt with or a lack of employment if you're hungry, if you don't have a place to call home?" Riggs said. "All of these issues continue to compound to cause crime and degradation of quality of life. So our goal is to enhance the quality of life for our residents — better food, better education. It's going to take all of us doing our part. But we have to work together."
Organizations like Gleaners, United Way, Lilly Foundation, the Red Cross, City Mosaic, Peace Learning Center, Public Safety Foundation, and the Central Indiana Community Foundation have all worked together to meet the needs of residents in Indianapolis.
Riggs sees importance in working with local partners to really help capture data to see if it's improving over the years. With information from their projects, Riggs can see how many people they've helped and if it increased in the next year. By following data that isn't normally looked at, Riggs said that after five years, the city would have good data from these partnerships with nonprofits and be able to see how that affected the crime rate — and therefore being able to draw comparisons.
But in order for this to happen, Riggs said Indianapolis needs a minimum of two or three years of good data in order to see results long-term. Riggs also added that help will be needed from academics to help determine if they're successful with fixing the crime rate and to make sure they're getting a firm analysis of the programs they are implementing.
"I need to lay that foundation now or we're going to find ourselves in the same position five or 10 years down that road that we are now, still dealing with the same systemic issues and still dealing with the same type of crime," Riggs said. "We can do some things short term, but we have to be thinking in the long term and more of a logical approach."
Riggs has been involved with law enforcement for 26 years.
"I came to an early realization that just arresting people isn't going to solve the problem," Riggs said. "There were numerous times that I arrested someone for a crime, and sometimes felonies, only to see them back on the street within a year, and nothing had really changed."
According to Riggs, 9,000 people will be coming to Marion County from jail looking for jobs and services that Marion County can't provide for all of them — most of whom won't have high school diplomas. He also added that if they have a drug conviction in their past, they won't qualify for government housing.
Considering the conditions prisoners return to from incarceration, is it really that shocking that a large portion end up back in prison?
"We wonder why the recidivism rate is so high," Riggs said. "It's a vicious circle. Preventative action is very difficult and that's why it takes a community. We know it's an issue but we can only affect it so much."
If a prisoner serves their time, coming out and struggling to make ends meet because they don't have a high school diploma and can't find a job or suitable housing, the likelihood is that they will turn back to what got them in trouble in the first place.
"We're not going to reduce the crime rate long term unless we deal with these systemic issues," Riggs said. "Poverty in this community has increased 23 percent since 2009. That is a troubling statistic."
Just like many cities, the majority of Indianapolis is safe, with a few areas where a lot of crime and violence is occurring. According to Riggs, "we need to deal with it for the residents that live there, but also to make sure that it doesn't expand into other areas because it has and it will continue to do so if it goes unabated." n