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'Now is the time to respond': Leaders with Indy's public health and safety office share violence reduction plans

Posted at 11:20 PM, May 12, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-12 23:20:56-04

INDIANAPOLIS — Hope, resources and engagement — these are things city leaders with the Office of Public Health and Safety believe are key in violence reduction solutions in Indianapolis.

“Now is the time to respond. Now is a time to be on one accord,” Cameron Shepherd said. He is a program manager with OPHS.

“The violence is everywhere," Shepherd said. "We have it in our older population and we’re starting to see if now in our younger population,” Shepherd said.

According to WRTV homicide data, 17 people under the age of 18 were homicide victims in 2021.

This year, eight kids under 18 are homicide victims, and it is only May.

“We know the numbers. We are aware of that. The number with teens related to violent crimes continues to rise. To me this is an opportunity for the community to ride together to respond,” Shepherd said.

Both Shepherd and OPHS Director Lauren Rodriguez agree -- what happened Wednesday overnight at the canal strengthens the need for immediate and continued action between grassroots organizations, the community and the city.

“How do we stop that (the violence)? That is something I think about every single day,” Rodriguez said.

The office is focused on several areas of engagement including the Safe Summer Program, which kicks off in June and will offer free activities for teens. This summer there will also be a community empowerment conference with an attached resource fair. The idea here is to bring teens and their families together for a larger conversation.

“Engagement is huge. Continued engagement is huge, so it’s not a one-time band-aide,” Shepherd said.

Rodriguez said her office is both proactive and reactive when it comes to tackling the violence problem.

“We are very flexible in our approach. We know that it’s not a one size fits all. We are on our toes at all times,” Rodriguez said.

Another area OPHS oversees is the peacemakers program. Several of the 44 peacemakers will be at the canal on weekends and in other areas like Broad Ripple to monitor and interrupt potential situations.

“We didn’t get here overnight and I don’t think we’re going to get out of it overnight, but I tell you I think we have the right people doing the work,” Shepherd said.

Over the next three years, OPHS said $166.5 million is allocated to an anti-violence plan targeting community investments, root causes and traditional law enforcement. Most of the funding is through the American Rescue Plan.