What to know about IndyStar's investigation of violence at Indianapolis bars

  • In US
  • 2023-02-01 23:28:44Z
  • By IndyStar | The Indianapolis Star

Here are seven takeaways from an IndyStar investigation into violence at Indianapolis bars and nightclubs, and the authorities responsible for monitoring the businesses.

Violence is frequent at Indy bars and clubs

IndyStar identified more than 600 reports of violent acts tied to Indianapolis bars, clubs and event centers since 2016. That includes 202 incidents involving gunfire, 37 rapes and sexual assaults and 20 stabbings, according to police reports.

The violence has left a grim toll: at least 49 people dead and more than 150 others injured in shootings or stabbings.

49 killed, 154 shot or stabbed: How Indiana law protects bad bars

Police are powerless to shut down violent bars

Despite the violence, Indianapolis police are virtually powerless to shut down bars and clubs. Unlike neighboring states, Indiana prohibits cities and towns from regulating alcohol businesses.

Officers sit outside of a busy bar district Saturday, Jan.
Officers sit outside of a busy bar district Saturday, Jan.  

The state's enforcement is lax

Only the Indiana Alcohol & Tobacco Commission has the authority to shut down bars that become magnets for violence. But IndyStar found the ATC rarely takes steps to do so.

The state agency's enforcement arm, the Indiana State Excise Police, has 73 excise officers to monitor 15,000 bars, restaurants and stores that sell alcohol. That's not even one officer for every county. Moreover, the number of violations the agency issues and the number of underage drinking checks it performs have fallen by about 80% since 2014.

ATC's nuisance bar program is largely toothless

In 2019, the agency set up a program intended to give more scrutiny to bars with a history of violence and other problems. IndyStar found it largely ineffective. Not a single bar in Marion County is in the program, despite the abundance of violence. Even when a bar is placed in the program, it sometimes receives no extra permit visits or underage drinking checks.

Bar goers walk down the sidewalk Saturday, Jan.
Bar goers walk down the sidewalk Saturday, Jan.  

Political influence presents another barrier

Problematic bars' lawyers are often former ATC officials. Many are politically connected and also lobby at the Statehouse, where they help craft the very laws they use to defend their clients.

On one occasion, an Indianapolis city-county councilor intervened to keep a bar open, rankling IMPD leaders.

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Almost one year later, the sting of the absence of Secoya Williams still lingers for family members.
Almost one year later, the sting of the absence of Secoya Williams still lingers for family members.  

Indianapolis police do what they can

IMPD says it is doing what it can to address the problem. The department has spent nearly $2.9 million on overtime the past four years for extra weekend patrols on a two-block area of South Meridian Street with many bars and clubs.

The department's commercial crimes branch has arrested several bar owners on allegations of tax evasion and corrupt business influence. Some of their businesses have remained open, though, demonstrating the limit of what police can do without the ATC.

Influential:Indianapolis bars with violent histories often stay open. Who helps make it happen?

Indiana lawmakers, governor reluctant to make changes

IMPD is pushing the state to give local authorities more autonomy or equip excise police with resources to tackle the problem. So far, they haven't received much interest.

IndyStar asked Gov. Eric Holcomb's office if he plans to advocate for any changes, but a statement did not answer the question.

Contact IndyStar reporter Tony Cook at 317-444-6081 or tony.cook@indystar.com. Follow him on Twitter: @IndyStarTony.

This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: Indianapolis bars are magnets for unchecked violence, IndyStar finds


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