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June 1, 2014

Indianapolis grasps for answers in a violent year

INDIANAPOLIS — Two men in bright yellow safety vests stroll through a rundown neighborhood where boarded-up houses and padlocked storefronts stand as silent witnesses to a wave of street violence that threatens to taint the reputation of Indiana’s capital city.

As they trade small talk with women and children sitting on their porches, the men from the Ten Point Coalition aren’t just being friendly. They’re trying to keep people from killing each other — part of a broad effort to tamp down the bloodshed using methods old and new, proven and unproven.

The number of homicides in Indianapolis is increasing at an alarming rate, putting the city on pace to have its deadliest year in at least eight years. Already ranked 22nd on the FBI’s list of deadliest cities, the city could move up and rival its 162 killings in 1998, the worst year on record, if the hot summer months accelerate the violence as expected.

The number of homicides hit 62 Friday following a shooting on the city’s east side. The trend is especially perplexing because slayings in large cities such as Chicago and New York have been declining.

“We have a threat, and it’s clear to me that we just don’t quite get it yet,” Police Chief Rick Hite told reporters Friday, minutes before joining a circle of prayer for the violence to stop.

The statistics are a blemish on a city better known for its hospitality, business-friendly environment and well-received hosting of the 2012 Super Bowl. Leaders desperate to stop the bloodshed are struggling to find a solution.

Mayor Greg Ballard has met with gang leaders, and city officials have proposed about $29 million a year in tax increases to add nearly 300 officers to the police force by 2018. Police have beefed up street patrols, hosted neighborhood meetings and expanded the presence of McGruff the Crime Dog in classrooms to reach kids before they drift into deep trouble.

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