Fighting crime by fighting hunger

Gleaners Food Bank of Indiana receives a $10,000 grant
(Provided Photo/Gleaners Food Bank of Indiana)

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Before announcing that he was stepping down as IMPD’s Chief of Police, Troy Riggs took an unconventional approach to fighting crime; fighting hunger.

Riggs isn’t saying that because people are hungry they turn to crime. But he hopes that by leveling the playing field, those in poverty can have the same opportunities as anyone else. It’s an approach that seems to be working.

Juli Phillips is a regular at Westminster Neighborhood Services off of New York near Rural Street on the city’s east side. She relies on it to feed her family.

“This is the only close food pantry to me and without them, I’d really be hurting,” she admits.

Phillips is married with five kids, one of her children is special needs. “I’m constantly on the go to Riley and different doctors appointments. It’s very stressful because I can’t work and I have other little kids to take care of. So, it’s just a strain,” said Phillips.

She’s not alone. Every week, hundreds of people pass through Westminster. Some looking for a hot meal at their soup kitchen, others need food to take home to their families.

“It’s providing the food to go along with the jobs after they pay the bills. They don’t have enough money for the food,” said Pantry Director, Lindsey Welch.

Welch estimates that volunteers serve around 350 meals per week. The soup kitchen is only open twice a week. She says many more come through the food pantry.

Feeding the hungry is one way Chief Riggs is fighting crime, “Because somebody lives in poverty and because they’re poor, because they’re hungry does not mean they’re going to be a criminal. But, when you look at areas where you have high poverty, you have lack of jobs, unemployment is high, lack of food or the resources to purchase food; that is a breeding ground for crime.”

Westminster is in one of six key neighborhoods the city identified as focus areas where crime seems to run rampant. By providing food, Chief Riggs says they’re putting a dent in the crime rate.

“If we start solving the hunger issue, we start solving the mental health issue. We start solving the things that we could do better as a police department. It’s going to take a little bit of all that to deal with the long-term crime prevention that we want to instill here in the city,” said Chief Riggs.

Since becoming police chief almost a year ago, Riggs says in those six focus areas murders have gone down 10 percent and non-fatal shootings have also decreased by seven percent.

“If your children are hungry and your loved ones are hungry, that’s your first priority. You have to deal with that before you can ever deal with an addiction, or you can deal with a mental health issue, before you can deal with education attainment. You have to make sure that somebody is properly fed,” said Riggs.

This is why the city partners with Gleaners Food Bank. Gleaners then partners with local food pantries like Westminster, to make sure families like Juli’s are properly fed.

“Without this food pantry, my kids would be going without a lot,” she said.

Chief Riggs announced plans to step down on Wednesday. He and Mayor Joe Hogsett promised the city would continue its efforts to fight crime by continuing the work they started.