"Time to get real

One afternoon a couple of weeks ago, I returned to the NUVO offices in time to learn that someone had been shot just two blocks south, at the corner of 38th and Meridian. He was standing near a bus stop when a car pulled up, a man jumped out and fired. This happened in broad daylight at one of the busiest intersections in the city.

Not long before that, my co-workers and I were startled to look out our windows in time to see a high-speed chase down the middle of Meridian Street as rush hour was beginning. A thug ran another car off the road and drove up on the sidewalk outside our building. He fled on foot but was brought down by a police dog in a nearby parking lot.

Lately, elderly folks in the Butler Tarkington neighborhood have been followed into their homes, beaten up and robbed. The number of carjackings in Indianapolis has doubled over last year.

I don’t know about you, but I can’t think of a time when crime in this city has seemed so pervasive — and I’ve lived here close to 20 years.

It’s worth noting that we’re having an election this November. Campaigning was what Greg Ballard was trying to do on that afternoon a man was shot. Ballard is running for mayor against Bart Peterson, who is seeking his third term. Ballard held an impromptu press conference to say that crime in this city is out of hand, the police are stretched thin and that something needs to be done.

Some people probably thought holding a press conference at a crime scene was grandstanding. I thought Ballard had a point: Crime in this city ought to be an election issue.

The problem for Ballard is that everybody, including his fellow Republicans, seems to think Bart Peterson can be mayor for as long as he wants. And so this crime wave and what we’re doing about it are filtered through a lens of Peterson’s making. A lens, by the way, shaded by the recent consolidation of local police and the Sheriff’s Department under Peterson’s IndyWorks plan.

The timing couldn’t be worse. Talk to a cop and you’ll hear that public safety resources are short-handed at a moment when people seem to be acting out with a vengeance. North district, where I live, is an area that covers 79.9 miles, has 220,000 residents, but is patrolled by just 20 to 25 squad cars at any given time.

For his part, Peterson has made a point of showing how concerned he is. He’s prayed with the clergy and hung video cameras from light posts. Late last year, as the murder rate soared, he unveiled a strategy that involved going to the state Legislature in order to get approval to raise new forms of revenue — a strategy the legislators rebuffed.

In short, Peterson has tried to rally more resources for public safety while asking for a minimum amount of sacrifice from the public. But instead of getting better, things are getting worse.

Until now, this has not been Peterson’s fault. He has presided over a city that has lived on the cheap for generations, with lower taxes and fewer services than other, comparable communities. It’s a city that, in many ways, would rather think of itself as a big town, a place that doesn’t need to pay for urban needs, like a bigger jail or more cops. Indeed, Peterson’s biggest argument for consolidation has been that it would save us money.

Well, guess what: We need a bigger jail and we need more cops — and we need to pay for them. What’s more, the state Legislature thumbs its nose at Indianapolis. It’s not coming to our rescue.

Peterson, our seemingly anointed mayor, needs to use his political capital to stand before us and tell it like it is — that we’re in a war here. That war means sacrifice. And that all of us are going to have to pay more so that our city can not only catch the bad guys and put them away, but so that we can do as much as possible to prevent these crimes from happening in the first place. Otherwise, he’ll be like George Bush, telling us all to go shopping.

The day that guy was shot at 38th and Meridian, I asked Greg Ballard if he thought it would take a tax increase to properly fund our police. He said he’d have to study the issue more closely; he wasn’t sure more taxes were necessary. Mr. Ballard, if you want crime to be an issue, you’ll have to do better than that. Be honest about what it will cost for us to win this war. The way things are going, come November, some of us may be ready to listen.