Indianapolis public safety officers would live rent-free in high-crime areas under new proposal

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Democratic City-County councilors are proposing a new program aimed at getting police into rehabbed houses in high crime areas in Indianapolis.

The idea of "Safe Neighborhoods Now!" is to provide rent-free homes for the officers - including Indianapolis Metro Police and sheriff's deputies - in blighted neighborhoods. The proposal will be introduced at the July 14, 2014 meeting of the Indianapolis City/County Council.

Empty lots and vacant homes have long plagued some of the city's struggling neighborhoods. They're seen as magnets for vandalism and other crime.

Yolanda Gilliam listened Wednesday as city leaders announced plans to get a permanent police presence in high crime neighborhoods like hers. It involves rehabbing vacant homes where people like Yolanda feel held hostage by violence.

"I feel like I am a prisoner in my own house, because it does not make sense for people to jump out on you and want to put a gun to your head, stab you, you know, you can't trust being on these streets," said resident Yolanda Gilliam.

Gilliam's street has vacant house after vacant house. City leaders hope to fix one up and then recruit an IMPD officer to call it home, rent-free. They believe with a member of law enforcement on the block, it will change the landscape.

Democrats point to Indianapolis' murder count, which currently sits at 75 - the highest rate at this point in the year going back to 2008.

Under the plan, public safety officers would be allowed to live rent-free for two years in rehabbed or new homes on vacant lots in high crime areas. At the end of that period, the officer will have the chance to buy the house. The goal is to create a public safety presence as well as place the property back on the tax rolls, Democrats say.

"As you can see, there is a house here, there's a house there, here, I mean, this area," said City-County Council President Maggie Lewis.

If approved, a pilot program involving the Mapleton-Fall Creek Community Development Corporation (MFCCDC) will build five houses in targeted areas, using $1,000,000 in funds repurposed from Rebuild Indy.

"The Rebuild Indy funds can be used for infrastructure and abandoned homes, so I feel like this falls right in line with the purpose of those dollars," Lewis said.

Philip Norton took pictures with his cell phone during the announcement. He, too, welcomes a permanent police presence.

"It just deters crime. If you know a police officer lives there, you are apt not to do anything wrong, so anything in this area will help," Norton said. "Yes, that's a good idea."

An idea that could help fight crime.

"Maybe it will cut it down some, that's what I hope," Gilliam said.

Lewis hopes to have talks with Mayor Greg Ballard about the police rehabilitation program as they start budget talks for the city. In the meantime, the Ballard administration plans to announce another crime-fighting initiative this week.