Here’s an informative Indy Star piece from Monday, July 3, 2006, reprinted in its entirety.
Indianapolis fights crime with clean; Officials sprucing up blighted neighborhoods , by Aparna Balakrishnan (The Indianapolis Star).
INDIANAPOLIS — Nillie Urick’s block typifies the general state of the Bates-Hendricks neighborhood: Weeds push through cracks in the sidewalk along disintegrating curbs, while debris litters the backyards of vacant houses.
Last week the neighborhood, on the city’s south side, served as the starting point for a summerlong effort to combat the city’s rising crime problem.
According to police statistics, the crime rate in Bates-Hendricks is 131.86 incidents per 1,000 residents — much higher than Marion County’s rate of 83.41 incidents per 1,000 residents.
Representatives from Mayor Bart Peterson’s office, Indianapolis police officers and crews from several agencies gathered not far from Urick’s house last week to kick off the effort.
They picked up 50 tons of trash and used 25 tons of asphalt to fill potholes in alleys and streets. Ten streetlights were repaired, and 55 street signs were fixed or replaced. The city also issued citations to owners of abandoned and poorly maintained lots.
The effort is in keeping with the so-called “broken windows” theory of crime prevention, which holds that certain kinds of crime can be deterred by making relatively small repairs in a neighborhood or area. The concept has had some success in other cities, including New York.
It is also part of a wider anti-crime push, announced last month by Peterson and police officials, that includes increased police patrols in crime-ridden areas.
As of mid-June, homicides in the county had increased more than 43 percent — to 63 from 44 — over the same period last year. Burglaries were up more than 25 percent in the first quarter.
Kevin Sifferlen of the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Services said 20 areas of the city have been targeted for attention.
Though city officials were optimistic that their efforts will blunt crime, residents were skeptical.
“I’d love to see (Bates-Hendricks) cleaned up. But how long would that last? I don’t think it’ll really help with the crime,” said Urick, 47, who has lived in the area for almost five years.
Police officer Stephen Knight disagreed, saying that maintaining areas such as alleys would lessen criminal activity.
“Thieves, criminals, generally use places like alleys to make getaways,” he said. “If (the alleys) look like they’re being maintained, if the thieves realize they’re being watched, they’ll move on to another area.”
Urick also criticized plans to issue citations to residents who don’t maintain their lots.
“We have all these old people here. They just can’t jump up and do these things,” she said.
Urick said her past efforts to report abandoned houses and drug dealing in the area were ignored by city officials and police.
Tim Martin, deputy chief of the police department’s south district, acknowledged that the city’s abandoned-housing problem is difficult to manage.
“Certainly one of the problems is that people get into abandoned houses and get into illegal activity,” he said. “But there are literally hundreds or thousands of abandoned houses in the city. It’s hard to check all of them.”
There are more than 8,000 abandoned houses, compared with fewer than 5,000 15 years ago.
Urick said she would continue to feel unsafe in the neighborhood until the problem of abandoned houses was addressed.
“It’s crazy around here,” she said. “I send my son away every summer because I don’t want him here. Maybe (the cleanup) would help to a certain extent, but (the criminals) don’t really care.”
Others, however, like lifetime Bates-Hendricks resident Nicole Berk, 26, were more hopeful.
“I’m excited about it. You have to have optimism,” she said. “Any help is better than nothing.”