IMPD changing tactics to address "public safety crisis"

No one was injured in the shooting Saturday night,
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The Indianapolis Chief of Police says downtown Indianapolis is facing public safety crisis.

Gunfire erupted Saturday night among a crowd of teenagers. It ended with a teenager arrested. A bullet hit a window. No one was hurt, but downtown's image was damaged again.

As a result, police are changing tactics. They're getting tough on adult and teenager trouble makers. It is both a public safety and public relations problem.

When Mary Nyhes hears about news like that, she says it doesn't encourage her to visit downtown Indianapolis. "It actually veers me away from it," he said.

Another shooting incident in an area frequently crowded with visitors and tourists concerns the people whose job it is to promote downtown.

Bettye Dobkins with Indy Downtown Inc., admitted, "People in Indiana in the donut counties who look at the news and hear the news, they think, 'Oh my gosh, big bad Indianapolis.' It scares them."

Despite numerous efforts, teen gun play has been a problem here for years even though someone is almost always watching. The city has added security cameras, police officers and enlisted the help of church groups. Yet the trouble with teens continues.

Rev. Malachi Walker is among the ministers who've worked with police, teens and churches to end the violence.

"What is being done probably needs to be set down and re-evaluated because it is not working," he said.

Another minister, Rev. Charles Harrison, has led a coalition of churches, community groups and volunteers. They've worked with teenagers, neighborhoods and police to prevent the violence.

Rev. Harrison blames city cutbacks on crime prevention spending.

"We no longer have the groups that would do community policing and providing safe havens on the weekend," he said. "We are not able, like we were years ago, to reach these kids."

Indianapolis will be reaching out with tougher tactics.

"We hit a new level over the weekend," said Public Safety Director Troy Riggs. "We had someone brandish a weapon.That cannot be tolerated."

Starting now, Riggs says police will take a zero tolerance approach to downtown streets. Adult trouble makers will be ticketed or arrested.

Juveniles face tougher consequences as well.

"Young people doing something wrong, we will take them into custody and we will have parents come pick them up or book them into the juvenile facility," said Riggs.

At the same time, Indianapolis Police Chief Rick Hite is now leaning on Simon Mall to re-assess its security and not simply expel dozens of troublesome teenagers on to the streets, leaving police unprepared.

Troubled history

In March 2012, a 16-year-old boy shot five other teens along the downtown canal. Police arrested Dai-Twon Williams, who was charged as an adult in that crime, which detectives say was gang-related. Williams had been threatening and harassing one of the victims on Facebook before the shooting.

During the 2010 Indiana Black Expo Summer Celebration, a teenager shot nine people in a crowded downtown street. Shamus Patton, who was 17 at the time of the shooting incident, pleaded guilty to six counts of battery, criminal recklessness, criminal gang activity and carrying a handgun without a license.