Police step up downtown crime patrols

Sandra Chapman/13 Investigates

Indianapolis - Tourists often flock to downtown Indianapolis to enjoy shopping and restaurants. Most Hoosiers think downtown Indianapolis is safe, but the numbers are showing an increase in crime.

On any given Saturday night, surveillance cameras capture closing time at Circle Centre Mall. Droves of noisy underage youth are ushered out onto the downtown streets. The teens have nowhere to go, no supervision and too many opportunities to give Indianapolis and its downtown visitors a black eye.

"These kids that are leaving this mall are beating up my customers," reported one 911 caller.

In 2005, there were 79 assault-related reports downtown, many in the late evening or wee hours of the morning. Now this year there are reports of more troubling attacks.

"All I remember is being on the ground, huddled up just feeling my head go back and forth from the thumps," said Ronald Lee, beating victim. "I never would have expected that right out in front of the restaurant in the downtown of Indianapolis."

From his home in northern Indiana, 56-year-old Ronald Lee lives with scars and fear. The weekend before Valentine's Day, he and his wife planned a special getaway to Indianapolis. They were having dinner with friends near the mall when he stepped outside to have a smoke. It was almost 9:00 pm and the mall was closing.

"There was probably a group of 50 of them standing on this corner. Some of them would take off down one street and come back," he said.

When the group started running in his direction, Lee thought it was all just part of the game. "The first one hit me on the left side of the head. And I turned and said some profanities as the second one cuffed me and then the third one cuffed me and then the fourth one hit me with a pipe," he said.

"And the kicks; I got kicked in the side, kicked in the butt, kicked a couple of times I think in the head," Lee said. His assailants never said a word. Lee suffered broken dentures and internal swelling.

"I was never knocked out. I was just dazed because the punches just kept coming and coming and coming," Lee said.

But what failed to come was help. "They apparently got tired of beating on me. They just walked away. They didn't run. They walked."

A brazen attack on a busy Saturday night in the heart of downtown Indianapolis? It's not an isolated incident. Just weeks ago, a 25-year-old walking near Monument Circle was accosted by a similar group. He too was punched and kicked. That same night, police learned a father and his 14-year-old daughter had also been beaten.

Police records obtained by 13 Investigates show as many as 214 assaults during a three-year period within a square mile around Monument Circle. They include everything from rowdy fans fighting at a Colts game to attacks in a parking garage - even shootings.

"I've been here since 1997 and it seems to be getting worse," said Jason Varner, manager of Houlihans at Maryland and Illinois. It is a prime business location that on more than one occasion served as a front row seat to the violence. "At nine o'clock it's like it changes," said Varner.

Varner was there the night Ronald Lee was attacked and last Saturday when two teens were shot. He pointed out the bloodstains on the sidewalk.

Last summer, downtown violence and property damage prompted curfew sweeps and extra patrols.

"They just get somewhat out of control and they have attacked a couple of folks downtown and arrests have been made," said Deputy Chief Bettye Dobkins, who supervises the Indianapolis Police Department's downtown district. She said police have no reason to believe the violence is gang-related.

Deputy Chief Dobkins says more police are now mandated to patrol the area on Saturday nights. "If children are of legal age to be out at that hour all we can do is just monitor the behavior. By law, we can't make anyone just leave," she said.

But for city visitors like Ronald Lee, it leaves a lasting impression that no city would want. "Eventually the pain goes away. I'm sure it'll go away, but there's got to be some help out there as far as somebody preventing this from happening to other people," Lee said.

Arrests were made in the three beating cases mentioned in this story. Indianapolis Downtown Inc reports more than 17 million visits to the downtown area last year with more than 2,000 total incidents reported. Police say most of the crimes were thefts and bar fights.

Even though police consider downtown one of the safest areas in the county, they are increasing patrols on Saturday nights.