Is Indy’s growing reputation for crime a fair assessment?

(WISH Photo/Brett Bensley)

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — This is the time of year when Indianapolis loves to celebrate.

Bright colored race cars and checkered flags. Balloons and parade floats.

But this year, violence injects a dark element to the city’s psyche — 52 homicides in 2014.

Those killings have attracted unwanted attention for Indianapolis.

A story from WBBM in Chicago declared “Indianapolis murder outbreak double number in Chicago.” An article in the The Huffington Post said some of the country’s most dangerous neighborhoods “aren’t nearly as dangerous as places like Indianapolis.” And, a column in The Guardian, in Great Britain, wrote of “a record-setting uptick in violent crime” in Indianapolis.

“We don’t want people to feel scared in the city, clearly,” Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard said.

“We don’t want people to feel scared in the city, clearly.”— Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard

He also prefers not to see Indianapolis as dangerous.

“I don’t look at it in that term,” he said. “I look at — are we going in the right direction or are we not going in the right direction?”

A review of crime statistics allows him to say, overall, the city is improving. At the end of March — the latest report available — criminal homicide in Indianapolis was up 10 percent. But rape was down more than 25 percent. Property crimes — burglary, larceny and arson — were down in the first three months of 2014. Only vehicle theft was up, increasing by 2.53 percent. The calculations suggest overall violent crime in Indianapolis is down a bit more than 3 percent compared to the same time last year.

A random sample of visitors in Broad Ripple revealed more comfort than concern about crime in the area.

“I would say Indiana is fairly safe, even in the city,” said Ben Parrott, a downtown resident.

Bryan Steinmetz said he has lived in the Broad Ripple area for “half a year, maybe.” He acknowledges hearing of robberies, but he said “I always have” felt safe there. He is out in the area often “and haven’t felt any sense of danger.”

Only Kristen Piwowarski of Avon revealed any sense of caution. She said she doesn’t feel safe there “at night, particularly, because I’m a girl and I don’t go out in bars in the area.” When she does visit the area, she says she is usually with a friend and tries to avoid anything “that could be potentially harmful for me.”

Crime also doesn’t seem to be frightening out-of-town visitors.

“Certainly, the 13th largest city in the nation isn’t immune from violence, from crime.”— Chris Gahl, vice president, Visit Indy

“Certainly, the 13th largest city in the nation isn’t immune from violence, from crime,” said Chris Gahl, vice president of Visit Indy.

But Gahl said he sees no evidence that Indianapolis is losing convention business because of it.

“We’ve not heard any negative feedback from any meeting decision-maker who’s considering Indianapolis as a place to host a convention,” Gahl said.

Visit Indy is the convention and tourism promoter for Indianapolis. Gahl said hotel occupancy, the number of convention delegates and the total number of visitors are all up.

Visit Indy asked meeting planners for words that describe Indianapolis.

“The first three were: Clean, safe and walkable,” Gahl said.

The only notable criticism, Gahl said, arose from panhandling.

“In a meeting planner’s mind, if you’re a city with panhandling, you’re a city that’s unsafe,” he said.

Those perceptions were the result of a survey conducted last May. Gahl said Visit Indy will watch for the results of a similar study. It could indicate whether the bad news about Indianapolis has eroded the sense of security for visitors and residents alike. That survey will be conducted early next month.

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