Neighborhood Leaders Hear Updates on Crime, Castleton, Trails in BRAG Forum

by | Jun 12, 2024

Gun violence is down, and the I-465 improvements, Nickel Plate trail and other projects are making progress. But there are no easy answers when it comes to sidewalk repair, and police are seeing a warm-weather surge in “sideshow” takeovers by scofflaws in high-powered cars.

Those are the headlines from the May 22 BRAG Neighborhood Leaders Meeting, featuring updates from elected officials and representatives from the state highway department, and city police, public works and metropolitan development agencies.

The future of Castleton Square Mall and the surrounding area remain a concern for BRAG, which represents about 30 Northeast side neighborhood groups. On the one hand, District 3 City Councilor Dan Boots told the group, the area has enormous potential because of its large population base and access to two interstates.

“Castleton is a victim of its own success,” he said. “It’s in the top 3 or 4 percent of attractive retail areas in the entire United States. That’s why (companies) want to come here. So, we have to think about who we want to let in.”

That popularity can be an issue, Boots said.

“There’s some loose zoning in Castleton right now. What’s called C-4 is a very common category, which includes 99 percent of what businesses are—from auto shops to adult bookstores, to liquor stores,” he said. “So, our challenge is to monitor that zoning. And BRAG has been working with GACC, the Greater Allisonville Community Council.”

Neighbors can make the difference, he said.

“It’s critical to get residents involved in remonstrating. The zoning board will listen to a roomful of residents who are upset that a particular business, or a liquor license is coming in. We really rely on community involvement.”

In the area of economic development, District 4 City Councilor Nick Roberts said East 91st Street Christian Church will be helping form a community development corporation, or CDC.

“This will be a huge boost for economic development for Castleton,” Roberts said. “It makes us eligible for a lot of grants for housing, economic development, infrastructure.”

Nickel Plate Progress

The 10-mile Nickel Plate Trail, formerly the rail line used by the State Fair Train, will include numerous sidewalk connections to neighborhoods, part of the state’s $180 million Next Level Trails program.

Gretchen Zortman, a project manager for the Indianapolis Department of Public Works, said the goal is to provide a trail within five miles of every state resident.  

“It has been transformative across our state–a highly successful program,” she told the group. “Get a hold of your elected representatives and let them know these things are important to you, to keep that funding moving forward.”

 As part of the state trails program, DPW was able to provide a trail connection to Eastwood Middle School on 62nd Street, as well as other sidewalk connections to schools and apartments.

“We’re adding a very long spur over to Sahm Park,” she said. “There will be a trailhead and parking there so you can reach the pool and other facilities from the trail.”

Sidewalk Funding?

The sidewalk links to the trail are separate from sidewalk needs elsewhere, however.

“There is limited budget available to the city of Indianapolis to actually build sidewalks,” Zortman said, adding that it would cost $1.6 billion to put one on every street.

Zortman and Boots noted that matching grants are available through the Indianapolis Neighborhood Infrastructure Partnership, INIP.

“Among the top five questions I get is, ‘When are we going to get sidewalks?’’’ Boots said. “There is not a pile of money intended for sidewalks. But the city will match your funds, 50-50, to put improvements to the public right-of-way.”

He said the Hearthstone neighborhood at East 91st Street and Masters Road raised money through its homeowner’s association to apply for matching funds for street repair.

“They got tired of waiting for DPW to repave their street, so they went and raised enough to match the city,” he said.

Boots said more neighborhoods should know about the matching program. 

“It’s a shame because there is money just sitting there, intended for the neighborhoods, and it’s not being used,” he said.

Crime, Castleton, Trails, and Sidewalks

 I-465 update

The closed section of 71st Street under I-465 should reopen this summer, said Alex Lee of Parsons Corp., who has assisted the Indiana Department of Transportation with public information. He said the project’s contractor is currently working to lower the road beneath the bridge to allow trucks to pass.

Work continues, meanwhile, on the five-year, $470 million effort to widen the I-465 / I-69 interchange.

“There is a lot of inconvenience, but things are starting to come back,” Lee said. “Later this summer, I-69 northbound to 82nd Street will come back online. The east half of the 82nd Street interchange will be opening up in late summer.”

Gun Crimes Down

The community-wide Gun Violence Reduction Strategy has been working, said Dane Nutty, president and CEO of the Indy Public Safety Foundation.

Since the program was launched in January 2022, Indianapolis in the first year saw a 32 percent reduction in criminal homicides and a 19 percent reduction in nonfatal shootings, he said.

The city said its three-year $150 million violence reduction program would be paid for with federal COVID relief funding and continued as part of the local budget.

Nutty and IMPD Commander Matt Thomas, who leads the police department’s North District, said that the same 300 to 400 people are responsible for most gun crimes in the city.

“You’ve heard the phrase, ‘You can’t arrest your way out of this problem,’” Thomas said.

“Ultimately, we need to have resources to reduce recidivism so we’re not going after the same people, over and over. And the best way to do that is to help get a person back on track and become a productive member of society—to at least, stop shooting people.”

Several groups are working on this, including the Office of Public Health and Safety, and the Indy Peace Fellowship.

“We’re grateful for all the people who are out on the street every day, interacting with high-risk individuals,” Thomas said.

In a system known as ‘focused deterrence,’ the anti-violence partnership focuses on the small percentage of people who are in violent social networks—not online networks like Facebook, but networks of associates who engage in high-risk behavior.

IMPD has two dozen intelligence analysts who use social network analysis to identify people at risk for committing violent crime.

“We will go to someone’s house and say, ‘We’re paying attention; we know you’re high-risk; we care about you. Here are some resources. We want to get you the help you need to change your life, so we at IMPD are not knocking on your door next,’” Thomas said. “It’s an ‘ah ha’ moment for them.”

‘Sideshows’ come to Indy

Disruptive, illegal car events seen in other cities have arrived here, the IMPD North District commander said.  

“Sideshows” are gatherings in which cars take over intersections or parking lots to do burnouts, doughnuts, or other tricks with their cars.

“Every major city I’ve talked to has this issue,” Thomas said. “Sometimes these people have weapons, sometimes the cars are stolen. They wreak havoc and then they move to the next location, and the next, and so on.”

A recent sideshow took place on a Saturday night near Steinmeier Estates in the BRAG area, Thomas said. Police have formed a task force with undercover officers, a state police helicopter, automated license plate readers and other tools to pursue the “spinners,” who use encrypted communication apps to stay ahead of the law. He urged property owners with parking lots to arrange a trespass agreement with IMPD, which allows police to order spinners off private property. That and other resources are available by writing to the North District at, he said.

Strength in Numbers

BRAG President Kevin Senninger said the group hadn’t held a public meeting like this for several years. “We are working hard to be proactive in getting out the word of what BRAG is up to—from the trails, green space and redevelopment opportunities, to serving as a liaison for residents with the city,” he said. “We want to hear what people are saying, and then take it back to the elected officials and city staff. We can let them know what’s happening—what people really think.” For more information regarding BRAG, you may write to