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50 'violence interrupters' to hit the streets of Indianapolis

The violence interrupters along with community resource coordinators will point people to help and support.

INDIANAPOLIS — Fifty more violence interrupters will hit Indy streets to help curb crime. At 36th and Leslie streets on Indy's east side, Bernice Dabney is sick and tired of the gunshots.

"It's like every weekend, all you hear is popping off," she said.

Across the city, those pops are taking more lives every day. Over the weekend, Indianapolis reached a record 246 homicides for the year. There were more murders in the days that followed.

Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett and other city leaders have touted unprecedented action to put a dent in the numbers. The City-County Council approved $150 million in federal American Rescue Plan funding for public safety.

More officers will be hired; mental health resources are being added; and the city's Office of Public Health and Safety has highlighted crime prevention initiatives that they say are making progress.

One of those programs is putting more boots on the ground to interrupt the violence. The Indianapolis Public Safety Foundation (IPSF) hired a handful of people to intervene at crime scenes where tensions are high — to interrupt the violence, talk people down, and prevent retaliation.

They, along with community resource coordinators can also point people to help and support.

RELATED: Deadly shooting on south side sets new Indianapolis homicide record

RELATED: City leaders, community hopeful Indy can do better as homicides reach all-time high

These peacekeepers are considered "credible messengers," according to Dane Nutty, IPSF executive director. They've been impacted by the criminal justice system, and they know the neighborhoods. So the people who live there will, in theory, listen.

"We have people that are from those areas that can get in there and can talk to them, and they're trusted. And so, they're more likely to listen to them," said Lauren Rodriguez, director of Indy's Office of Public Health and Safety.

Both Rodriguez and Nutty say the program is working.

"We've interrupted over 600…close to 700 conflicts at this point," Nutty said.

He acknowledged it's hard to put a number on what didn’t happen but might have.

"But through the work we're doing and knowledge we have, we know that some portion of those 600 or 700 would have escalated into some level of violence,” he said.

But critics point to a homicide rate that continues to climb.

“We have yet to meet or see any of the taxpayer-sponsored so-called 'violence interrupters' in the neighborhoods of Indianapolis," said FOP President Rick Snyder. "Based on another year of record shattering violence and homicides in Indy, it might be time for the administration and council to move in a different direction and align their efforts with community partners that have a demonstrated record of success and have already been doing the work for years."

Criminal justice experts call the program a good start.

"A city the size of Indianapolis, with the level of gun violence that it has needs significantly more investment," said David Muhammad, executive director of the National Institute for Criminal Justice Reform, a California-based group hired by the City of Indianapolis to take a look at crime levels and the city's approach to solving it.

Nutty and Rodriguez said additional investment is coming. Up to 50 more violence interrupters and resource coordinators will be hired beginning next year.

"That's when we will begin to see an actual turning downward of the numbers of shootings in the city," said Rodriguez, who added this approach has had an impact on other cities.

"I know we'll see a huge impact," said Rodriguez.

Residents hope so.

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