INDIANAPOLIS — Sylvia Wise used to feel safe taking walks in the Indianapolis neighborhood where she and her husband have lived for 40 years, on the south end of the capital city.
That was before the peace was shattered Thursday night by a quadruple killing — four of eight deaths within a 24-hour period ending Friday.
"We don't usually venture out at night unless we really have to," Wise, 70, said Friday. Two men and two women were fatally shot in a house about four homes down from hers on the other side of the street.
Indianapolis has had a total of 26 homicides since 2014 began — and there's still another week left in February, police statistics show. The city of 885,000 residents is on track to break last year's undesirable count — 125 homicides, the most in seven years. That included 21 deaths from Jan. 1 to Feb. 28.
Indianapolis Police Chief Rick Hite said most homicides, including this year's, are committed with guns. Usually, the killer and victim were involved in illegal activity, he said. In addition, most of the deaths occurred behind closed doors in houses where police already knew trouble lurked, Hite said.
"If you're not on the wrong side of the law, you should not be worried," Hite said.
Mayor Greg Ballard echoed that in a statement Friday.
"While no one deserves to be a victim, initial reports indicate these were not random acts of violence. The victims knew their assailants," Ballard said.
Indianapolis police have been working with state and federal agencies to bring down the level of gun violence, and Hite said it has paid off. Crime in the city has mostly been down in recent years, except for homicides, and police have made arrests in 70 percent of the killings, he said.
But police can't solve the problem alone, he said, noting scaling back the violence involves ramping up punishment and offering safer alternatives to those who might be on the track toward committing a violent crime. Drugs, robbery and homicide are all intertwined in some way, he said.
"We want people to get out of the game," Hite said.
One step was a state law that goes into effect July 1 that increases the mandatory prison time served by convicted felons to 75 percent of their sentence, rather than the current 50 percent, he said.
Ballard spokesman Marc Lotter said officials were taking a more "holistic" approach to crime, including community outreach programs that work with families and churches to help neighborhoods cope with crime.
"The community has to come together as a whole to solve some of these problems," Lotter said.
Willie Dailey, 84, lives near the house where four people were slain, said he believes the old neighborhood — and the city — is generally safe.
"I feel safer here than in other cities," the retired foundry worker said. "I guess that's because I've lived here all my life."
But Wise remembers a time when people could go on long walks without having to look over their shoulders and sit on their neighbors' front porch, swapping stories. That was before some of the older people in the neighborhood died or moved away and younger residents brought with them cars come and go at odd times.
The Wises have installed extra locks and dusk-to-dawn security lights, and she has a warning for others who may think their neighborhoods are safe from violent crime.
"It's seeping into all neighborhoods," she said. "I don't care where, it's coming."