By John T. Martin, Evansville Courier & Press

Mayor: Police responded to 3,882 shots fired calls from 2016-2020

EVANSVILLE, Ind. — The Evansville City Council on Monday funded an anti-gun violence initiative advocates said will tackle an alarming problem on the city’s streets.

As part of a budget transfer vote with several items, the council committed $150,000 to a partnership with the National Network for Safe Communities. It includes $150,000 more in 2022 and $85,000 in 2023, for a total of $385,000.

The council’s vote was 9-0.

Mayor Lloyd Winnecke, who doesn’t regularly attend City Council meetings, appeared Monday to ask councilors for the financing. He said Evansville Police Chief Billy Bolin also is supportive.

Winnecke said city police responded to 3,882 shots fired calls between 2016 and 2020 and another 135 so far this year.

“Too many neighborhoods and too many residents live in fear,” the mayor said.

The National Network for Safe Communities, according to Winnecke, “has a proven track record” of helping communities reduce homicides and other violent crimes, including in cities similar to Evansville.

Congregations Acting for Justice and Empowerment, a coalition of Evansville faith-based organizationsfocused on community issues, has encouraged city government to work with the National Network for Safe Communities. The group is based at John Jay College in New York.

Louisa Aviles, director of Group Violence Intervention at the National Network for Safe Communities, spoke to the council remotely and said the group’s approach involves law enforcement, outreach organizations and “community moral leadership.”

A fraction of a community’s population is responsible for a substantial portion of violent crimes, Aviles said. The organization’s approach involves “direct sustained engagement with populations that statistics show are perpetuating such violence.”

Aviles said the group’s work “begins with facts on the ground.”

She said the message that community leaders take to those most at-risk of becoming involved with gun violence is, “We need you here; we want you here, and we need you to stop with what you’re doing because it’s killing us. We need to say that with authority.”

Councilor Justin Elpers, R-Fifth Ward, asked Aviles if any approach the National Network takes to curbing gun violence involves advocating 2nd Amendment restrictions.

“No,” Aviles answered.

The city’s contract with the National Network is for two years, but Winnecke said the organization agreed to spread its payments over three years.

“This is a significant investment,” said Council Finance Chair Zac Heronemus, D-Third Ward. “However, I think after the two years we work to build this, it is something that can carry on indefinitely.”

Councilor Alex Burton, D-Fourth Ward, said there have been homicides in the city within 1,000 feet of his home, and “I’m elated to bring these services to Evansville.”

The $150,000 budget transfer for the National Network includes city funding from casino revenues, local option income taxes and a Department of Metropolitan Development source.

Insurance resolution defeated
In an 8-1 vote Monday, the City Council defeated a nonbinding resolution presented by Elpers encouraging Winnecke’s administration to make changes to its employee health insurance program and shop for a new carrier.

The city runs an annual deficit in its health insurance fund (often called the “hospitalization” fund). The deficit is currently about $2 million. It had soared to $4.9 million at the end of 2016, following a year of numerous expensive claims.

The deficit is covered by other city accounts with positive balances.

Elpers said after the council meeting he remained concerned the city’s program has too much risk because of a lack of caps on claims.

Winnecke said the city consistently evaluates its insurance plans seeking savings with carrier EPIC Insurance Midwest, formerly known as OMI Risk Partners.

“We do review it on a regular basis. Whether you’re talking about health care or property and casualty, we take this very seriously, and we look at it line by line,” Winnecke said.

Company representatives answered several questions from councilors Monday.

“We have a very professional partner that’s proactive in addressing the needs we have as a city,” said Ben Trockman, D-1st Ward. “I am confident in our executive body doing its due diligence, and also our partner.”

View the original story here.