- Associated Press - Friday, July 18, 2014

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - Indianapolis police trying to keep a popular annual event safe amid a surge in homicides this year are taking extra steps to ensure security and urging youths to walk away from trouble or stay home if they can’t behave.

Indiana Black Expo’s Summer Celebration, a 10-day event that wraps up this weekend, features job fairs, health forums, concerts and other offerings. It has been the scene of violence in the past, and some residents who recall when a man opened fire in 2010 as crowds emerged from events say they’re uneasy given the city’s recent crime problems.

“Nobody wants that stuff to happen,” said Indianapolis resident Jeff Spalding, 54, a fiscal analyst. “But could it happen again? Yes.”

Indianapolis has seen more than 70 homicides so far this year, many of them involving gangs. Just this month, at least a dozen people have been shot, including a city police officer who died and seven people injured at a popular nightlife district. At least one person has been stabbed and another was killed with a hammer.

Expo officials didn’t return a phone call seeking comment Friday, but in the past they have urged participants to be responsible over the weekend and heed curfews and listen to police.

Public safety officials have taken a broad approach to security by trying to address the social issues that often breed violence in addition to adding extra patrols. Police Chief Rick Hite said Friday that officers have been visiting known troublemakers and warning them not to cause problems downtown this weekend.

He shouted out encouragement at a church to teens who took part in a summer jobs program aimed at diverting kids from crime.

“Come down to Summer Celebration … in a spirit of peace,” Hite urged the throng of yellow-shirted teens who packed the sanctuary at Fervent Prayer Church. “If you see something that shouldn’t be happening, walk the other direction,” he said.

The Summer Celebration has been relatively crime-free since the 2010 shootings, which injured 11 people. City officials plan to enforce a curfew again this year to help control the youths who come downtown for the concerts. Those who aren’t picked up by the designated time will be taken to another location until their parents arrive.

Police also plan to have officers in helicopters, on bicycles and on horseback to help keep order. Sgt. Kendale Adams said uniformed and plainclothes officers will be downtown, and off-duty officers hired by the municipal transit service will keep watch at bus stops.

“We’ll obviously be out in large numbers,” Adams said.

A faith-based group, the Ten Point Coalition, will have volunteers watching to break up any fights.

Hite noted that other cities have canceled events like Summer Celebration because of violence. But police said they believe their security approach, along with changes making the event more family-oriented, are working.

“I think the message has gotten out there to parents that please don’t let your 9, 10, 12-year-old child downtown alone at 2 o’clock in the morning,” Mike Bates, deputy chief of the city’s police department, said at a news conference this week.

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