If you talk to leaders in the police department and the police union, they will tell you that the key to making the city safer is putting more officers on the street. But Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard says the solution is not that simple.
Ballard was talking economic development today on the IUPUI campus when we asked about hiring more police to fight crime. He gave us an earful and an answer nothing close to what we expected.
While critics demanded more tax dollars for more police, Ballard announced a $10 million economic development project to improve the IUPUI campus and neighborhoods around it. It's is part of an overall plan to renovate and modernize the Natatorium.
"Income tax dollars, property tax dollars, that's how it all works," he said. "That's how we get the money."
But the city's been getting a lot less money to pay for fire, police and other essential services. We looked over some of the city's finances and budgets. The recession and tax caps have slashed property tax revenue by $43 million. Income taxes are down $31 million. According to spending numbers, public safety has fared better than most city services.
While tax revenue dropped 13 percent since the start of the recession, IMPD funding increased 11 percent. The police department receives more than a fourth of local tax dollars.
We asked the mayor, given the alarming increase in violent crimes, if there was more money, would he hire more police officers?
"That's not the issue," Ballard answered, sounding irritated. "You guys keep going to that. It's not the issue. If you want to stop violent crime, you have to rethink what people are saying over and over again."
Ballard insists there is no research proving more cops on the street result in fewer crimes. The real issue, he says, are young men - teenagers - dropping out of the system.
"Completely lost to everybody," he said. "And they manifest themselves in violent crime."
Those teens then move into a criminal justice system Ballard and others fault for not identifying the most violent criminals, Ballard insists, "who need to stay away for a long time."
"You have a guy who shoots nine people and he's out in two and a half years? Really?"
Ballard concedes more resources for police are part of the solution, but there are other just as important parts of the problem needing to be fixed. He's previously said he will push the legislature for mandatory minimum prison terms for crimes committed with guns - an effort that failed in this year's legislative session.
There has also been talk of more mentoring and other programs aimed at keeping inner city kids out of trouble and out of prison. However, the benefits of both those initiatives could be years away.