Holding the Line on Crime
Indy’s Public Safety Director & Geist Resident Troy Riggs Talks About Crime in the Burbs
Writer / Neal G. Moore
It was a tough week for Indianapolis Public Safety Director Troy Riggs. On July 5, IMPD Officer Perry Renn was killed in the line of duty—gunned down with an assault rifle while responding to a report of shots fired in a neighborhood. Just a day removed from Officer Renn’s interment in Crown Hill Cemetery, Riggs met with Broad Ripple Community Newsletter (BRCN) for a conversation about crime—what the problems are, and what to do about them.
BRCN: What are we to learn from Officer Renn’s sacrifice?
TR: In a year and a half, we’ve had nine officers shot—two fatally. Twenty or so others have been fired upon. That’s because they are in there in those tough areas [of the city]. That should be scary to all of us because that means individuals have no problem shooting at a police officer. At the end of last year, I gave a speech and talked about us not being able to be apathetic about our city. A lot of cities have given up on certain areas, certain streets. We’re not going to do that in Indianapolis. But, we as a group need to say we’re not going to stand for violence, anywhere. And what I need, quite frankly, from individuals who are in the suburbs, is if you care about your city… and look at it like it’s a family—part of our family is hurting. We have young people who have no future, and they want a future and we need to support them. People say that the suburbs and certain areas around Indianapolis don’t want to help. I don’t think they realize how they can help.
BRCN: Is there a direct cause and effect between stepping up and doing something, and at least holding the line against crime?
TR: Not only holding the line, I think we can dramatically reduce it. Just because you’re poor doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to have a life of crime. I grew up in a very poor area. I saw want. But, I don’t understand not having a mom and dad that’s taking care of [their kids]; I don’t understand being left at home by yourself and fending for yourself; I don’t understand some of these parents who abandon their kids. We can’t say it’s okay not to raise your child. We need to hold people accountable. When you add poverty, lack of hope, lack of food, lack of money, low education, schools that are failing—that is a recipe for violence. It just is, and we can’t be apathetic about that anymore.
BRCN: What is your reaction to the recent mass shooting in Broad Ripple?
TR: What we need to do in Broad Ripple is continue to work with the business community. Lots of the businesses there have very good business owners working hard. There are a few that have caused some issues and we’re going to deal with them long-term, but it’s going to require Broad Ripple getting involved. Remember, the other night we had police officers a block away. Police officers are very visible there. They weren’t just dispatched to the scene; they heard the shots fired. If they hadn’t shown up I don’t know what would have happened, but we probably would have had many more people injured.
Here’s the troublesome part. It’s not all the business community—but the public needs to be aware of this: that incident could have spilled out of a bar. We’ve had [other] incidents and fights that have. Sometimes we’ve had incidents where people have pushed people out of a bar because they’re causing issues, and put them on the street. Now it’s an issue on the street. I understand that. But, they need to call the police department when that happens. So, we need some civic-minded people to call us when someone sees an argument in Broad Ripple or somewhere else in the city. They need to call us immediately so we can get officers there.
We’re spending an inordinate amount of money and putting a lot of resources in place to keep Broad Ripple safe. We can’t do this long-term. We need to have a solution that’s working. We do [street-level surveillance] any time there’s a flare-up in any part of the city. That’s not an issue, and we will continue to do that. But we need people to pick up their cellphone and give us a call.
The shooting the other night? We had roughly 20 officers who responded immediately. We had 65 officers there before the night was over, which is unbelievable that a police department can mobilize that quickly. But that’ s because of the good planning. We’ll continue to do that, but we’ve got to work with the business community. They’re willing to work. It’s a good group of people, but we have to get our arms around that.
The reason we shut the road down is it’s so narrow on the sidewalks. It just gives a little bit of breathing room. Our next issue is: Now that people know we’re doing that, are more people going to show up and have larger crowds? If a business is [causing] some types of issues and we find code violations, or we keep finding they’re pushing their problems onto the street, we’re going to have to deal with that. And that’s not just Broad Ripple, that’s everywhere and I think that’s fair.
BRCN: Are you more psychologist, or law enforcement official?
TR: I think it’s a balance of both. You have to fight crime not just by locking people up. You have to stay in areas long-term, and you have to put enough officers on the street so they’re getting to know citizens so that when a citizen picks up the phone and calls the police, they’re calling an officer they know. That’s how we turn the tide. Reducing crime has a lot to do with officers on the street, and putting people in the right places. But the biggest crime prevention that we can move on, long-term, is if one person gets involved in the life of another person who’s in danger of going into crime, and turns him around. It breaks the cycle.
BRCN: What about racial attitudes and crime?
TR: I think people want to say it’s a race problem. I think it is a socio-economic problem, more so. It doesn’t matter if you’re white, Hispanic, or African-American, if you have those [challenges] that I just talked about, that adds up to issues. And we’re seeing that across society. The scary part is that even in the suburbs and some of the wealthy areas, there’s a growing issue with heroin. One of the reasons young people there are being targeted is they have disposable income. Heroin is permeating all through society. We’re going to see more and more of that, and in areas that you’re not anticipating. Anyone who thinks our schools and our city don’t have a heroin problem, they just haven’t paid attention.
BRCN: Are you hopeful about the future?
TR: I am hopeful. I’m seeing the community talk more about social issues. That’s a good thing. When I got here they were talking about police need to do this and that. But, I think people have a better understanding—that people are starting to see what they can do, and what their part of it is. And they’re understanding that it’s social. If you compare statistics, all major violent crime dropped 10 percent in June from May. So, we’re starting to make a difference. What we have to remember is we’re going to have some good months, and we’re going to have some bad weekends. Let’s do the policing we have to do, but let’s also deal with the social issues.
You can contact Riggs via email: firstname.lastname@example.org