Equitable, Not Equal, Distribution of Public Safety Funds in Indianapolis

Author: Sonia Torres Rodríguez and Sharon Kandris
Date Posted: August 17, 2021

Interested in redressing existing racial, economic, educational, and health inequities, the Indianapolis City-County Council explored how to more effectively allocate funding to reduce violence. In 2020, informed by analysis from a partnership with the Polis Center at Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis, the City-County Council allocated $1.25 million in funding for violence reduction and prevention initiatives across its 25 districts in an equitable—rather than equal—way.

In addition to deploying funding differently, in 2020, the City-County Councils’ Public Safety and Criminal Justice Committee decided to be more strategic in tackling violence. Previously, when determining where violence existed in the city, the council typically only considered violent crime reports using a limited measure that obscures other structural factors that can lead to higher incidence of violent crime, such as unemployment, poverty, educational attainment, and neighborhood and economic segregation. Last year, they sought out the Polis Center to help them better understand the disparities, needs, and inequities by neighborhood and council district to make data-informed decisions that culminated in a more equitable distribution of prevention funds.

With input from committee members and stakeholders, Polis built an equity model and developed a new violent crime index using data from the SAVI Community Information System, instead of just reporting on the rate of violence in each district, the new index paired these data with seven measures of neighborhood disadvantage and segregation termed social determinants of violent crime.

The Polis Center showed the areas of Indianapolis with the greatest need for investment have higher proportions of people with low incomes and residents of color. This was calculated using an index that the Polis Center built to aggregate data on measures like educational attainment and income level, creating a percentile rank of the sum of indicators, and reporting the districts in ranked order. Based on the index metrics, each of the districts with the highest scores received $80,000 in public safety funds, as opposed to the $20,000 that districts with the lowest scores received. Additionally, councilors used the data compiled by the Polis Center to inform their decisions on how funding was spent within their district.

Because of the success of the initial partnership between the Public Safety and Criminal Justice Committee and the Polis Center, the council has extended this partnership to apply data-informed approaches to other budgeting processes. This has included the Polis Center collaborating with the council to address racial equity in its annual budgeting process through a similar place-based data analysis, as well as the Polis Center conducting six equity and data workshops reaching staff in 30 of the city and county’s departments. This work has created a process for infusing equity into data-informed decisions to drive the City-County Council’s funding process and provided a model for other public entities outside of Indianapolis to distribute funds equitably, rather than equally.

This story was written by Sonia Torres Rodríguez at the Urban Institute and Sharon Kandris from the Polis Center. The Polis Center at Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis is the Indianapolis Partner in the National Neighborhood Indicators Partnership, a learning network in 30 cities coordinated by the Urban Institute. All Partners ensure communities have access to data and the skills to use information to advance equity and well-being across neighborhoods.

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