The Daily Reformer
INDIANAPOLIS — When it opened in late 2018, the Colts Canal Playscape, located in greenspace where the downtown canal meets West Walnut Street, immediately attracted kids and families grateful for a place for youngsters to play outside within the Mile Square.
Unfortunately, it also attracted after dark visitors as neighbors became accustomed to the sound of late night gunfire and police sirens as IMPD responded to reports of violence, fights, homicides and robberies.
FOX59 collected more than a dozen such reports in 2019 and 2020 with the low point during a seven-day stretch last summer when two homicides occurred near the playscape, one a 14-year-old boy who was killed as he tried to rob a man at gunpoint and the other the still-unsolved slaying of a young mother on the bridge over the canal.
One neighbor in the Watermark community said the gunfire sounded like it was immediately outside his front door, an entry now buffeted by a new nine-foot-tall brick wall, which provides both a sound barrier and additional security from any trouble that begins in the vicinity of the playscape.
But another resident said a decision by the city to zone the property as a park, giving both IMPD and park rangers more clear guidelines in enforcing the rules and closing the playground at dusk, has led to a much safer community and returned the playscape area to the purpose for which it was first intended.
“I would say on a regular basis IMPD does have bike patrols down here,” said Dennis Erpelding, a 20-year resident along the canal. “As a matter of fact, if you walk out you will see them here every day. They’ve added more lighting to make it more user friendly. I think there’s efforts underway to add in more cameras and the b-link and things like that.”
B-link is the system that allows IMPD to monitor private security cameras in a community.
IMPD Downtown District Commander Phil Burton said that a clear demarcation of authority and rules governing the canal and the park and the oversight of the Department of Metropolitan Development have led to a safer environment.
“There was some concerns about illegal activity that was occurring down here on this particular playscape, so we’ve increased our patrols here on both our middle and late shift and particularly on the weekends,” said Burton. “Last year, we actually got some assistance from DMD. They were able to hire officers off duty, actually on overtime, and they worked overnight, they worked 10 at night until 5 in the morning, and we saw a major decrease in the number of incidents that were happening here on the canal.”
Burton said he expects stepped up patrols to remain in place throughout the summer along the canal and in the vicinity of the playscape.
“It’s great to hear the sounds of kids playing,” said Erpelding as children crowded the playscape during the noon hour. “We have a common interest here to say, ‘How do we make our community livable, enjoyable and safe?’
“I think this is a classic example where in the last year we started to recognize some of those things in the early indications were going to be challenges.
“IMPD, the park rangers, the City-County Council have done a great job of saying, ‘How do we resource this, address the issues appropriately, proactively and right now?’
“When you see out here today, this is an example of things being done right and for the betterment of the city overall.”
On a stretch of the canal this past weekend, some blocks south of the playscape site, an Oregon man in town for the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament was assaulted by a man with a history of mental illness issues.
IMPD quickly identified the assailant, but the victim refused to press charges.
Burton said that assailant was later arrested on a drug charge.