Community safety meetings to address gun violence are in-person again after months of being held remotely due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The meetings, hosted by the city’s Office of Public Health and Safety, began in 2019 and are geared toward those who have been involved in gun violence crimes, said Tony Lopez, the gun violence reduction strategy manager for the office’s violence reduction team. In-person meetings began again late last month and will allow staff to more effectively reach community members.
“We are trying to help them understand that there are other ways, there are resources, there are people out here that care about them, that we would rather them be a community member that is successful and giving back to the community versus a community member that is either ending up dead or getting sent to prison,” Lopez said.
The meetings previously took place four times a year, but are now occurring every other month. Participants gather at a neutral location in the city such as a church or a park, and the meetings will be capped at five to 10 people to create a more personable setting, Lopez said. All of the individuals who have participated so far are either on probation or community corrections. Some have committed gun violence crimes, while others have also survived shootings.
Lopez said once the pandemic began, the office switched to a hybrid model, with a remote and in-person option, but the meetings had low attendance. Lopez added that those involved in gun violence crimes are often in hard to reach areas and may not have adequate internet access to join remote meetings. Now that the meetings are fully in-person, Lopez said he hopes attendance will increase.
“It’s another way for us to reach a community that we have a hard time getting to, it's a way for us to reach individuals that we know have had this activity with gun violence activity in their lives,” Lopez said.
Gun violence has been on the rise in Indianapolis. So far this year, more than 100 homicides have occured. Lopez said that makes these meetings even more dire.
“Our goal is to have them understand that we want them to be safe, alive and successful,” Lopez said.
At the meetings, participants are connected with community resources and hear from local speakers about the impact gun violence has. Resources to help those who were previously incarcerated reenter the community are also available.
Lopez said the meetings aim to help not just those who physically attend them, but others in the community.
“We hope that not only do they understand the message, but they take it back and they are that relayer of the information to others in the city that possibly are doing these crimes and this gun violence that we have," Lopez said.