Indianapolis Weed and Seed Initiative -- Indianapolis, IN
Program Type or Federal Program Source:
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Geographical Area Targeted by the Strategy:
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Indianapolis, IN, has received Federal Weed and Seed grants since 1995 to target three neighborhoods in the West District of the city: Haughville, a predominantly African-American area that was plagued by drug trafficking and associated violence and Hawthorne and Stringtown, predominantly white areas with high levels of property crime, prostitution, and domestic violence. The neighborhoods were selected because of high crime rates but also because there was a community organization, the Westside Cooperative Organization (WESCO), that was able to bring together these disparate groups. WESCO is a nonprofit umbrella organization for civic associations and other community groups. It serves as a conduit for Federal, State, and local funding for community-based programming and coordinates much of the social, political, and economic activity in the western area of the city.
In 1998, Weed and Seed was expanded to include an area contiguous to the WESCO community and two neighborhoods in the North and East Districts of the city. Officers assigned to the WESCO initiative are serving as trainers in the new target areas. Each site has a steering committee that oversees committees on law enforcement, social services, and economic development. Requests for action can move from the steering committee directly to the mayor, chief of police, or a government agency. The current goals of the Weed and Seed effort are elimination of open-air drug trafficking (drug-related firearm incidents drive Indianapolis' homicide rate), reduction of alcohol-related incidents, reduction of nuisance properties through code enforcement, elimination of street prostitution, reduction of gang-related violence (particularly incidences involving firearms), and reduction of crimes committed with guns.
Effective leadership, both in the community and in the police department, has been critical to the success of this law enforcement effort. Many of those involved feel that the achievements of Weed and Seed in the West District are due in large part to the skills of the community leader who managed the project. He was able to get the community's racially diverse groups to agree that what they had in common -- a desire for safe communities, better schools, economic development was more important than what made them different (e.g., race, politics, and religion). The community became a public ally of the police department -- if there was police misconduct or other problems, residents agreed to resolve the issues privately rather than airing their grievances on the front page of the newspaper. In return, the police became more open about sharing information and explaining the rationale for some of their actions. Over time, mutual trust began to develop between the two groups, which allowed for effective community policing. As residents began to provide more tips, the number of arrests increased and crime decreased. As crime decreased, residents became ever more willing to report criminal activity, resulting in more arrests -- a self-reinforcing cycle of police-community cooperation.
A change in leadership at the police department has also been key to the success of Weed and Seed in the West District. A retired Indianapolis Police Department (IPD) deputy chief, who had been working in the private sector, was hired in 1997 as the new chief of police. Empowered by a 3-year contract that would give him the freedom to experiment, he set two priorities: a "return to basics" that concentrated on quality-of-life issues, which were a major concern of citizens, and the setting of high standards of professionalism and productivity for police officers. The new comprehensive strategy targets violent criminal activity and less pressing but nonetheless important issues such as graffiti, loitering, abandoned vehicles and properties, and prostitution. "Professionalization" of the force means that officers treat citizens as customers and are judged on how well citizens are served. Only officers who exhibit model behaviors (e.g., officers who receive few citizen complaints) and high productivity (e.g., officers who make a large number of arrests) are assigned to Weed and Seed activities and are eligible for overtime. Furthermore, command officers are encouraged to apply problem-solving and crime-analysis principles in developing new approaches for combating crime. The police chief encourages innovation and strives to create an atmosphere where new approaches can be tried and then modified or discarded, if necessary, without fear of negative repercussions.
Weed and Seed has become the impetus for building relationships with residents, and it allows for true community policing -- with residents telling police which crimes should be the focus of law enforcement activities and which techniques should be used (e.g., bike patrols and directed patrols). Improved communication has even caused a change in IPD investigative policy. In response to citizen concerns about retaliation, the police chief has directed officers to knock on "200 doors" after a shooting or other crime, to make it more difficult for the perpetrators to trace the information back to any single individual. The new procedure makes it possible for officers to build better cases and to collect information on other issues from residents, share information on police activities, and further build community support and trust.
Community residents and law enforcement officers believe that the early and sustained investment in community relations has begun to pay off. In 1997, the clearance rate for homicide cases was 79 percent, which is 10 percentage points higher than the national average, although the Indianapolis police force is about one-half the size of departments in comparable cities. Perhaps the strongest evidence of the change in police-community relations came in September 1998, when a drug dealer under surveillance emerged from his residence firing an AK47 at police officers and was wounded by return fire. Almost immediately, rumors spread among those at the crime scene that white police officers had shot a young black man in the back five times. A local minister who was a community leader arrived at the scene, was recognized by the IPD officers because they had been working together on other issues, and was invited behind the police crime-scene tape for an explanation of what happened and a visual examination of the bullet-riddled patrol car. He shared these facts with the crowd, which then dispersed without incident. Building on this positive experience, the chief plans to implement an IPD/WESCO chaplaincy program proposed by the community that would train a pool of ministers from each neighborhood to interact with police at crime scenes. The ministers would be identifiable by a special badge, would assist IPD in communicating with local residents about sensitive and high-visibility incidents, and would encourage those with any information to come forward.
Law enforcement strategies
Most project resources during the early years were devoted to "seeding" activities that helped build the community's capacity and infrastructure. This included coordinating the social services provided in the target neighborhood, putting together a strong staff, and strengthening police-community relations. Over time, the city began to put more resources into "weeding" activities, largely by cotargeting the Weed and Seed areas with officers and resources from other Federal programs. For example, the additional officers assigned to the area through grants from COPS were freed from having to respond to 911 calls and other "runs" from central dispatch. The Weed and Seed area also benefited from Federal Asset Sharing of Forfeiture (FASF) funds.
Crime data analysis
Collection and analysis of data drive decisions about which policing tactics should be used and which crimes and areas will be targeted. IPD has several evaluation contracts with a research firm affiliated with Indiana University. In March 1998, a researcher there completed a review of every 1997 homicide in the city of Indianapolis and discovered that most murders were committed by chronic offenders, most of these offenders were in some way linked to the city's drug trade, and in three-fourths of the cases victims and perpetrators knew each other. The researcher also noted that both victims and suspects had come in contact with the juvenile justice system at an early age and had been abused as children. Such information is important in helping communities to determine the kinds of early intervention and treatment services that are needed by children and families during the early stages of contact with the criminal justice system.
The Indianapolis Violence Reduction partnership uses the Indianapolis Management Accountability Program (IMAP) data as the basis for a multiagency project that develops strategies based on crime patterns tracked by officer reports and displayed bimonthly on Geographic Information System maps by IPD district. The partnership includes representatives from police, prosecution, probation and parole, ATF, DEA, and other agencies. Partnership members meet every 2 weeks to analyze crime data and to develop joint crime reduction strategies. Monthly community meetings provide an opportunity for community input.
In IPD's Violence Impact Program for Enhanced Response (VIPER), police identify the youth with the highest arrest rates and target them for enhanced surveillance, probationary supervision, and State or Federal prosecution. In 1997, for example, three-quarters of the homicide suspects had adult records as juveniles and averaged 3.7 arrests; almost 49 percent had prior felony convictions.
Crime data also helped IPD identify areas with the highest level of narcotics trafficking, which led to the creation of the Highway Interdiction Program. Signs that announce a fictitious "Narcotics Checkpoint" ahead are strategically placed on an interstate highway. Cars that attempt to avoid the checkpoint by exiting at the next off-ramp are searched. Protocols provide for a routine of stopping five consecutive vehicles, then passing the subsequent five. The procedure has withstood a recent court challenge for discrimination. A command van or undercover vehicle is positioned to observe drivers who attempt to dispose of contraband. Since the strategy was first employed in August 1998, there have been six operations resulting in 1,161 vehicles stopped and 109 arrests (55 for narcotics violations).
Multijurisdictional task forces
In addition to the Indianapolis Violence Reduction Partnership mentioned above, several multijurisdictional task forces have been created to address violent crime. The Metro Gang Task Force (MGTF) began quietly as a speakers bureau but has since evolved into a unit of highly trained officers who target gang-related drug trafficking. The task force members (all cross-designated as U.S. Marshals) include six IPD investigators, an officer from the Sheriff's office, and two FBI agents. The U.S. Department of Agriculture is a task force member because of extensive use of food stamps as currency in the drug trade, and INS provides leverage in cases where immigrants or nonnaturalized citizens are involved in criminal activity. State law enforcement personnel, IPD homicide and tactical units, and prosecutors also sit on the task force.
IPD participates in ATF's Project LEAD, which analyzes information gathered by the ATF National Tracking Center in order to identify straw gun purchases. IPD also works with the FBI's Drugfire program, through which all seized weapons are test-fired and the ballistics data entered into a computerized data base. In the last 3 years, there have been 19 "hits" on the Drugfire data base that have tied together 43 open cases in the State of Indiana. Analysis of gun-related arrests showed a need for collaboration between the police, prosecutors, and courts to ensure that individuals caught with weapons are not simply released, but receive appropriately swift and certain consequences. As a result, in February 1998, a Firearms Unit was created within the police department, with one sergeant put in charge of all gun cases. The unit also designated a specific State prosecutor who would have responsibility for getting the case on the docket and ensuring that it was not pleaded out.
Indianapolis has used directed patrols, a replication of the Kansas City Gun Experiment, in different neighborhoods with mixed success. In some areas, there were no attempts to educate the public about the initiative, and consequently, there was little community involvement or support. The impact was further muted because directed patrols were not fully integrated into a comprehensive law enforcement strategy. In 1997, IPD tested different protocols within the directed patrol strategy. In the East District, the police stopped vehicles for any infraction, but then typically issued warnings rather than citations. In the North District, which was more faithful to the Kansas City model, the police targeted suspicious vehicles and operators.
Results in the two areas differed markedly. In the East District, where 3,836 vehicles were stopped, for every 100 stops there were 60.7 warning tickets, 24.5 citations, 14.5 arrests, 1.1 felony arrests, and 0.34 seizures of illegal guns. In the North District, where there were many fewer stops (1,417), for every 100 stops there were higher rates for most police actions: 36 warning tickets, 49.2 citations, 30.6 arrests, 2.9 felony arrests, and 0.085 seizures of illegal guns. Crime in the North District also was significantly lower: homicides dropped from 11 to 1, while the city was experiencing a 53-percent increase. Aggravated assaults and armed robberies declined by 40 percent in the North District, and total gun crime reduction was 29 percent. By comparison, violent and property crimes increased in the East District, where directed patrols had been in use since late 1995 as part of a Safe Streets project.
Better performance in the North may have been influenced by several factors. First, police in the North District were more selective about which vehicles were stopped, while officers in the East District cast a much wider net that included many people who were unlikely to be lawbreakers. Second, by issuing citations rather than warnings, the North District may have more effectively communicated a zero tolerance approach that ultimately influenced criminal behavior and reduced crime. Finally, part of the reason for the poor performance in the East District may have been that the strategy had been in use there for 2 years, and a "decay effect" (i.e., reduced effectiveness, again because of adaptive criminal behavior) may have occurred. K9 patrols and probation sweeps for guns also were employed in the North District and may have affected criminal behavior.
The police department concluded that these directed patrols were an important factor in reducing homicides from 11 to 1 in the target areas, even though the homicide rate increased citywide during the same period. Drawing on lessons learned from the Kansas City Gun Experiment and from the city's North and East Districts, directed patrols are now part of an ongoing strategy in the West District Weed and Seed area, where they are coordinated with the Metro Gang Task Force.
Probation sweeps in conjunction with Marion County Probation Adult Services (Operation Probationer Accountability) are considered a cost-effective method of identifying and seizing illegal guns and have led to Federal triggerlock prosecutions of drug dealers in the target area. The sweeps found 34 percent of 243 probationers visited were in violation (two-thirds for reporting incorrect addresses), and 19 firearms were confiscated. The sweeps initially targeted the North District but are now being used in other areas. Police officers believe these unannounced visits are effective because parole and probation officers have sanctions available to them and authority that is not vested with IPD. For example, providing a bogus address is a violation of probation that can lead to reincarceration. In addition, while probation officers may enter a probationer's home, a police officer needs a search warrant. With multiple visits done on 1 or 2 nights, the program is extremely cost-effective. (Both police and probation officers are paid overtime through various grants.) Probation officers also are more willing to make visits into dangerous neighborhoods when they are accompanied by police officers.
Home detention checks with the cooperation of juvenile probation officers are credited with significantly reducing the number of daytime crimes (particularly burglaries), and curfew enforcement has significantly decreased evening crime rates. A recent home detention project targeted 72 juveniles who received 816 checks for compliance over 3 months. This resulted in 101 affidavits filed on 26 juveniles, 17 of which were subsequently found in violation by the juvenile court. Curfew violators are processed at Weed and Seed "safe houses," their parents are called to pick them up, and social service interventions are arranged as necessary. IPD believes the sweeps would be even more effective if local truancy laws were revised, and if a better network of social services existed for troubled juveniles. (At present, students who are picked up and returned to school may be expelled which sends them back onto the streets.)
Since 1995, crimes in Weed and Seed neighborhoods have dropped significantly. For example, total crime has fallen by 18 percent, property crime by 35 percent, burglary by 32 percent, and larceny by 27 percent. IPD case reports suggest that violence, weapons offenses, and gang- and narcotics-related activity decreased 8 percent, while arrests in these categories increased 12 percent. Citywide, total crime decreased 6 percent from 1996 to 1997. Homicides in the West District have decreased more than 50 percent, from 33 to 16, while homicides in the rest of the city have increased by 19 percent, from 85 to 117 through October 1998.
Although Weed and Seed clearly has played an important role in crime reduction in Indianapolis, it is difficult to show a causal relationship between crime reduction and any single Federal or local program, because each strategy is made more effective by the presence of the others. The reduction in Indianapolis' gun-related crimes is likely the cumulative product of the city's comprehensive multipronged program rather than the direct result of any single strategy.