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Indy, feds team up to fight crime in 'hot zones'

INDIANAPOLIS – A surge in violent crime in five areas near downtown Indianapolis has prompted federal officials to team up with police and prosecutors to make the city safer.

U.S. Attorney Joseph Hogsett said his office will help provide "boots on the ground" and prosecutions to help city leaders with a broad-based approach targeting high-crime areas.

"If you do not have safe neighborhoods, I would suggest that all the other things won't matter," Hogsett told The Indianapolis Star ( ), adding that it would be "immoral" for federal officials to stand by and not do anything to help reduce violent crime.

Indianapolis Public Safety Director Troy Riggs announced a plan earlier this year that aims to identify the root causes of violent crime and the most dangerous people in five areas north, east and west of downtown that are plagued by violence. The approach enlists social-service agencies, mental health providers and the Indiana Department of Correction.

Hogsett said a mix of drugs, guns and gangs has created a deadly atmosphere in the "hot zones." About half of all city homicides in the last six years have occurred in or near those areas, and the rate of violent gun crime was more than double in some of the hot spots.

The new initiative will include prosecuting every federal gun crime that is identified in the hot zones. That could mean more jail time for offenders. Federal penalties are tougher for many gun crimes, and those convicted typically must serve more time before becoming eligible for release than those convicted in state court, Hogsett said. Defendants also are less likely to be released on bond before trial.

Federal law enforcement agencies such as the FBI, Drug Enforcement Agency and Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms also could beef up their presence in the areas, Hogsett said.

Indianapolis Police Chief Rick Hite called the effort "an all-hands approach."

Joe Slash, president and chief executive officer of the Indianapolis Urban League, welcomed the help. But he cautioned that police will need to strike a delicate balance in the heavily African-American neighborhoods to ensure they are engaging, not harassing, residents.

"Unfortunately, we're in a situation where if you want to clean up crime, you have to clamp down," Slash said. "But I am convinced there are far more people living in these neighborhoods who want a clean, safe environment to live and raise their families. They are going to have to step up and help, too."

Hite, who is black, said the effort was being driven by data, not race.

"We are looking at where the violence happens, who are the people most likely to be involved in violence involving guns," Hite said. "We are not looking at the race of the people. ... If they happen to be people of color in an area that is predominantly people of color, then so be it."