Indianapolis Star Editorial

Let's Build a Safer City

November 5, 2005
Our position: The city must confront the need to improve public safety.

Friends describe Clarence D. Williams Jr. as a man of faith, passion and generosity. More than 3,000 of the restaurant owner's friends, family members and associates packed Mount Olive Missionary Baptist Church on Thursday to celebrate his life and his "homegoing."

They also came to mourn.

Williams was shot to death Oct. 26 during a robbery at his Haughville restaurant, C-Daddy's BBQ, Fish and Chicken. His murder was one of a rash of homicides in recent weeks that have pummeled the city and left residents wondering about their own security.

Are the murders only a temporary spike in violent crime? Carl Brizzi fears that isn't the case.

"I firmly believe right now that we're fighting for the soul of this city,'' the Marion County prosecutor said in an Editorial Board meeting Thursday at The Star.

A federal order has capped the number of inmates who can be kept at the Marion County Jail, a situation that has led to the early release of hundreds of suspected criminals. Many of them don't even bother to show up in court once they're out of jail. And Brizzi says suspects arrested in property crimes openly laugh at the police officers who detain them, knowing they'll be back on the streets in short order. The prosecutor argues that there's a strong connection between property crimes today and violent crimes tomorrow.

It's important to point out that homicides in the city and county have declined in recent years from record levels in the late '90s. Indianapolis is not Dodge City, or even Detroit.

But there's plenty of reason to be concerned. Mayor Bart Peterson announced budget cuts earlier this year that will reduce the police by 78 officers. He also has threatened to lay off another 48 officers if the City-County Council doesn't approve the proposed merger of the Indianapolis Police Department with the Sheriff's Department.

The merger should proceed. Yet, it won't be enough to address all of the city's public safety needs.

Brizzi argues for building a new jail to keep more criminals off the street. The need for more judges, courtrooms, prosecutors and public defenders is clear. And the sheriff desperately needs more deputies to patrol fast-growing suburban townships.

The big question no public official has been able to answer -- is how to pay for all these needs without further weakening an already anemic local economy.

No easy solutions exist. But, as Clarence Williams' murder made clear, no issue is more important or more urgent in a city fighting to protect its way of life.