Recent editorials published in Indiana newspapers

December 1, 2019

Evansville Courier & Press. Nov. 27, 2019

Does Evansville experience more crime than other cities? The answer ain’t so simple

Shootings. Child molestation. A woman beaten to death and buried under a garage.

All those crimes have struck Evansville in recent days. They sit alongside rapes and stabbings and arson and armed robberies and a host of other nauseating horrors.

Since it’s our job, media outlets don’t hesitate to shove it all in your face via push alerts, social media and depressing headlines. It’s enough to make you want to buy a shotgun and motorcycle helmet and spend your days crouched behind an overturned desk.

But is Evansville any worse than other cities its size? Or even other major cities in Indiana?

Those seem like straightforward questions. But like everything else in this puzzling world, they are anything but.

Most law enforcement agencies collect data every year and feed them into the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting system: a hub of crime statistics from across the country.

According to UCR stats, Evansville ranks fifth in the state in “violent crime rate:” the number of violent crimes reported per 100,000 residents. We trail Indianapolis, Fort Wayne, South Bend and Elkhart.

So Evansville is the fifth-most crime-ridden city in the state, right? Well, according to the FBI, it ain’t that simple.

In a lengthy post on the UCR website, the agency warns against using its figures to declare one city more treacherous than another. It politely attacks those “most dangerous cities in America” lists that blare across news sites from time to time.

“These rankings lead to simplistic and/or incomplete analyses that often create misleading perceptions adversely affecting cities and counties, along with their residents,” the agency writes. “It is incumbent upon all data users to become as well-educated as possible about how to understand and quantify the nature and extent of crime in the United States.”

Aw, they’re asking Americans to avoid kneejerk reactions. How sweet/hopeless.

But they’re right. Whether or not a city is “dangerous” depends on several factors. According to the FBI, crime data can expand or contract based on everything from poverty to population density to climate.

Then there are the reporting practices of local law enforcement.

“One city may report more crime than a comparable one, not because there is more crime, but rather because its law enforcement agency through proactive efforts identifies more offenses,” the FBI writes.


What the numbers do tell us, though, is that several Indiana cities have problems.

Indianapolis has set new annual homicide records in each of the last four years, RTV 6 reported. In 2018, 159 people died in criminal homicides, besting the previous record of 157.

The UCR usually lags behind, so 2016 is the most recent year listed for killings across the state. Both Gary and Fort Wayne saw more than 40 violent deaths, while South Bend (14) and Elkhart (15), which is half the size of Evansville, both hit double-digits.

Evansville suffered eight homicides that year. But when it comes to violent deaths, we’re all over the place.

We careened from 20 killings in 2017 to 10 a year later, according to EPD’s annual crime reports. This year, we beat 2018’s total by the middle of summer.

As far as other violent crimes, Evansville is worse than some cities and better than others. Similarly sized South Bend trounces us in robberies, but we beat them in larceny. Fort Wayne is twice our size and usually boasts twice the amount of offenses. But our stats on aggravated assault (492 to 469) and motor vehicle theft (414 to 383) are similar.

Cities of similar size

Population wise, Evansville is nestled between Lansing, Michigan, and Independence, Missouri.

Evansville’s violent crime rate was 517 in 2014 (the latest year listed in UCR). That’s worse than Independence (405) but better than Lansing (1,118).

If you looked up other cities of similar size, you’d find the same thing. We’re more violent than some and less violent than others. Or we’re not, and we’re just better or worse at reporting the chaos that takes place within our borders.

We’re neither Wakanda nor Gotham City. We’re not a utopia; we’re not a blood-speckled hellscape.

When it comes to crime, we’re just another American city. And I have no idea whether that’s comforting or not.


The (Fort Wayne) Journal Gazette. Nov. 27, 2019

Uncharted: State’s fascination with privatization leaves taxpayers vulnerable

On Monday, an Indiana deputy attorney general asked a judge to dismiss West Lafayette schools’ challenge of a law allowing charter schools to claim unused public school buildings for $1. The judge agreed and ordered the school district to notify the state that Happy Hollow Elementary School is available to potential charter operators.

Deputy Attorney General Kelly Earls argued that West Lafayette’s complaint was “hypothetical” because no charter school had laid claim to the building.

What’s not hypothetical is the real estate racket that has allowed charter school operators to drain millions of dollars from Indiana and other states. West Lafayette’s lawsuit represents a worthy effort to protect taxpayers’ investment in their communities. The state, in turn, fights to serve the interests of an industry that has long prospered at public expense.

As majority party lawmakers double down on claims the money they have allocated for schools ends up with administrators instead of teachers, an honest accounting of Indiana’s charter and voucher school costs is warranted. West Lafayette Community School Corp.’s lawsuit focuses on a single example of how our elected officials support privatization at the expense of students and teachers. The charter school industry is no friend to either.

A decade ago, The Journal Gazette reported a local charter school, Imagine MASTer Academy, was using state tax dollars to pay a for-profit landowner nearly triple in rent what it could have paid to own its building outright.

No one – not the governor, attorney general or any lawmaker – stepped up to protect taxpayers from that poor deal. None showed interest in the growing number of national headlines about charter school real estate scams. In announcing last week it was getting out of the charter school business, the former property owner of Imagine MASTer Academy illustrated why West Lafayette and other public school districts must challenge Indiana law.

Admittedly, the complex shell game is tough to follow, but no one should doubt who is prospering when an out-of-state real estate investment company boasts of 10.5% returns on a charter school portfolio that just sold for $454 million. Is it any wonder Indiana teacher salaries weren’t growing?

EPR Properties of Kansas City, Missouri, bought Imagine’s North Wells Street campus in 2008 from Schoolhouse Finance, the real estate arm of Imagine Schools Inc., a management group hired by businessman Don Willis and other area residents to operate the local charter school. The sales price was $5.5 million. Two years earlier, Schoolhouse had bought the campus from the YWCA. EPR, a real estate investment trust, sold it back to Schoolhouse eight years later for nearly $7.4 million. Just two years later, it was sold to Wallen Baptist Church for $3.25 million.

In the interim, Indiana taxpayers made rent payments of nearly $2 million in a three-year period alone. Under a triple net lease, the public was also on the hook for the for-profit company’s property taxes, insurance and maintenance. When the charter school faced closure because of poor academic performance in 2013, Imagine was converted to Horizon Christian School. State officials, under another charter-friendly law, forgave $3.6 million in loans to Imagine.

We don’t know how much Horizon Christian School paid in rent during its six years at the Wells Street site.Although the school, now at3301 E. Coliseum Blvd., is supported almost entirely by taxpayer-funded vouchers, its financial affairs are not subject to public access laws.

West Lafayette Community Schools Superintendent Rocky Killion said Tuesday that his district hopes to persuade local taxpayers and school districts affected by the $1 charter school provision to join their lawsuit. Perhaps another judge can be convinced that requiring taxpayers to give the school buildings they paid for to the highly profitable charter school industry is unconstitutional.

Better yet, lawmakers truly interested in supporting Indiana students and teachers will demand the law be repealed.


The (Anderson) Herald Bulletin. Nov. 27, 2019

Go upstream to stop domestic violence

Out for an afternoon stroll with friends on a path next to a river, you’re startled by a woman’s cries for help and you see her flailing arms in the water.

Someone jumps in and you and your friends help pull the woman safely to shore. Exhausted by the effort and soaked to the bone, everyone sits panting and shivering on the grass.

Then you hear more cries and look up to discover another person, and then another and another, struggling desperately to keep their heads above water as they’re swept downstream.

That’s the way it is with domestic violence: Friends and family, doctors, counselors, lawyers, social workers — it often takes a whole cadre of concerned citizens to stop just one abuser and save just one victim. Meanwhile, the stream of victims just keeps coming, flowing one after another.

The community’s challenge is to hike upstream to find the source and cut it off. While that’s no easy task, working together we can build a dam to slow the torrent of domestic violence to a trickle.

That, essentially, was the message delivered Nov. 15 at the Women in Philanthropy luncheon at Anderson Country Club by the keynote speaker, Laura Berry, executive director of the Indiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

Because domestic violence and child abuse don’t flourish in isolation, they require communitywide solutions, Berry said.

“They’re all interconnected,” she explained. “We know community connectedness is the protective factor for so many forms of violence.”

Berry’s coalition advocates for the upstream approach, offering programs that address prevention, intervention, advocacy, awareness, training and legal help.

Local organizations work diligently to provide similar services, but the stream of domestic violence keeps on flowing.

While we’re pulling survivors to the shore, we must continue to build that dam upstream.