Indianapolis officials scramble to avert a record murder rate for the city

Seventy people have been killed so far this year in Indianapolis, and the city is on pace to have its worst year since 1998, when it suffered 162 killings. The police presence on the street is being beefed up.

AJ Mast/AP/File
Police tape blocks the street in front of the scene of a shooting that left three dead the previous night in the Lakeside Manor neighborhood of Indianapolis Tuesday, May 20, 2014 in Indianapolis. The Indiana capital has already recorded 60 homicides and is on pace to have its deadliest year in eight years.

Gun violence is escalating in Indianapolis this spring, and city officials are scrambling to understand why.

Seventy people have been killed to date this year in the capital of Indiana, according to statistics compiled by The Indianapolis Star. This puts the city on pace to have its worst year since 1998, when it suffered 162 killings, the deadliest annual count on record for Indianapolis.

The rash of killings follows a particularly deadly 12-month period last year, when the city tallied 124 homicides. Last year, the murder rate was the highest for the city in seven years, at 17 homicides per 100,000 people. That topped Chicago’s murder rate of 15 per 100,000 people, although that city had far more murders.

Indianapolis has “a threat, and it’s clear to me that we just don’t quite get it yet,” Police Chief Richard Hite told reporters Friday. “Bad guys with guns can’t live in Indianapolis. We have to send a message to the collective community that it will not be tolerated.”

Criminologists say that it is difficult to understand spikes in numbers within short time frames and that key factors tend to be revealed when a period of several years is studied.

Nevertheless, city officials are pushing for measures to stop the violence from escalating, most notably by increasing the police presence on the street. Even though the murder rate has been increasing, police levels have dropped below 1,500, making for the fewest number of officers on the force over the past seven years.

That is now changing. Fifty-eight officers will be sworn in Monday, while an additional 22 will take their oath before the end of the year.

Adding police officers is a key component of the city’s long-term plan: It plans to hire 100 officers per year through 2018, bringing total staffing levels to 1,800. Mayor Greg Ballard is shifting spending priorities to cover the cost of the hires this year, but he is proposing a $29 million tax increase for the additional officers through 2020.

Two early-morning incidents Friday involved gunmen shooting at police officers. Two Indiana State Police troopers took fire from a car they were chasing in Indianapolis. The chase ended when the pursued vehicle crashed into a guardrail and the two men inside escaped, police said. No arrests have been made.

About 7 a.m., Quintico Goolsby killed two women and injured a police officer dispatched to the scene, police said. Police killed Mr. Goolsby in a shootout. The officer is the 30th in Indianapolis in seven months facing suspects who shot at police, according to the local ABC-TV outlet.

The Indianapolis 500, the city’s famed Memorial Day weekend event that draws more than 300,000 people to the city, turned violent when a man was gunned down following a fistfight at a campground near the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. It was the first homicide near the speedway on the weekend of the race, Speedway Police Lt. Trent Theobald said.

The Marion County Prosecutor's Office said Tuesday that it has not brought charges against the prime suspect in the case because of mistakes made in assembling witnesses of the event.

“This is an unfortunate bump in the road, but he is still considered a suspect,” Theobold said in a statement. “The pressure is on us to complete the investigation.”

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