INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — It’s a frigid December night and IMPD’s East District officers are preparing for one of the final shifts in a year that has seen yet another murder record broken.
A few minutes into their shift, there’s a call about a possible hostage situation. The information coming to officers is that a woman is being held against her will and the man doing it is threatening to shoot. After receiving some conflicting information from the woman’s family about whether or not they are at the right apartment, officers go in.
“Police department. If you’re in the basement come out now,” says one officer, who says he saw a cable move.
After a few more officers check upstairs, the officer focusing on the basement yells, “Show me your hands. Show me your hands now. Come out now.” A man comes up, followed by the woman police were sent to find. It turns out to be a misunderstanding between the woman and her family about where she was allowed to be.
A few hours later, there’s a call about a stolen vehicle that has nearly a dozen responding officers.
“We don’t know if it’s going to be a pursuit, a vehicle pursuit, we just have no idea what we’re getting into, so when we do that we typically do what’s called a felony stop. We stay back by our cars, stand cover, and order the people out, have them walk backwards towards us and then we’ll cuff them up and search them and what not,” said IMPD Officer Sonny Clark.
It ends peacefully and other than a possible break-in, it’s a rather quiet night in a police zone that rarely gets one of those.
“Zone 20 is one of the smallest in the east district, but we’re one of the busiest,” said Clark, one of several officers who work in the area near 10th and Rural streets.
“We have a lot of issues around the gas stations. There’s a lot of drug trade, there’s a lot of prostitution. This area is a violent area, east district as a whole, we typically have 36 to 42 percent roughly of the violent crime in the city,” said Clark.
The quiet night allows for a tour of the district, one that includes newly-constructed homes, and many abandoned ones. It also allows for conversation about the moments and people that officers don’t forget even after the busy nights are over.
“There’s a place I always drive by on Washington Street that a homeless lady was murdered. Just ask questions: How did she get there? How did she become homeless? Did anyone know she was murdered beside the police?” said Clark.
Those questions come from a man who had another career before becoming a police officer.
“I was a youth pastor for about ten years before I became a cop. I always wanted to do something where I could make the world a better place, always been interested in protecting people, as a police officer I’m working on a different end of the spectrum of making the world a better place,” said Clark.
“If you think of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, as a youth pastor I was helping people self-actualize. What are they going to find for meaningful work, how are they going to become the best version of themselves? Well, I wouldn’t be able to do that without law enforcement. If the streets aren’t safe, you can’t get to some of those deeper questions. People are more concerned about the food on their table or just making it home alive so as a police officer you get the opportunity to contribute to the safety which hopefully other organizations will come in and help develop people and help them grow. So, I’m still serving, it’s just a different aspect of the same thing. We need all the organizations, whether it’s police or faith-based organizations or state, we need education. We need all of those different organizations and without them all working together it’s just not possible to thrive within society.”
As former youth pastor and now officer, Clark says it is heartbreaking to see teens involved in violent crime.
“I think one of the major causes of that is just family life. Some of the homes we go to, there’s one home that comes to mind. There’s seven kids in this home, a single mother and she’s got a tough job and you talk to the kids and there’s two twins and then the other five, they were all from different fathers and the fathers weren’t involved in their lives. And a lot of these kids don’t have family. They don’t know what that looks like, they don’t know what that means. They don’t have that regular source of guidance, education, just how do you live life effectively? Ya know, just simple things, food. How do you cook your own food? How do you do your laundry? They struggle with that all the way up to having a place to belong and so you see a lot of these desire to belong, desire to be part of something bigger than themselves and so they’ll join a gang. And a lot of time that life leads to violence.”
Clark says the violence he and his fellow officers see effects each one of them differently.
“It depends what kind of violence it was. Was it a gang kind of thing? Were there innocent people that were in kind of an organization that’s competing against each other, territory. Depending on the kind of incident, it depends. A lot of times, officers struggle the most when there’s a child hurt. So, we all have to cope with a lot of these things,” Clark said.
Especially in a year that has seen a record number of murders.
“For us on East District, we have such a high rate of violent crime, so it’s not, sometime’s we’re so busy, it’s hard to keep track. We hear the number it’s coming by, we do see an increase, but we’ve seen a steady increase so it’s not out of the ordinary but it is frustrating to see the violence that we do.”
On this frigid December night, a chance to reflect on the busy nights that are sure to come.