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Thursday, January 14, 2021

Hogsett, Roach chisel away at tension

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I remember a conversation I had with former IMPD Chief Troy Riggs.

Riggs is a good person, someone who is really sincere, and I am always able to speak very candidly with him. Riggs is also highly skilled in law enforcement, and he has a national reputation for being progressive, fair and instituting out-of-the-box and highly effective initiatives.

During this particular conversation with Riggs, we discussed the strained relationship between people of color and law enforcement. We also talked about some of the police-action shootings of unarmed Black men that had occurred nationally. I specifically told him that when — not if — such a thing happened in Indy, the manner in which his department responded from the beginning would be key in working to reduce or increase the tensions between Blacks and police officers.

Riggs shared what he thought would be the best way to approach such an instance, and I shared mine. When our conversation ended, I felt confident that if such a thing occurred on Riggs’ watch, IMPD would do the right thing. 

I wasn’t as confident in how current IMPD Chief Bryan Roach would handle things.

I have nothing against Roach and, in all fairness, I haven’t had the type of deep, one-on-one conversations with him that I had with Riggs. I have also been told by multiple sources that deep down, Roach doesn’t share many of the same perspectives that Riggs did, nor is he as forward thinking. Again, since I don’t know Roach as well as I do Riggs, I can’t provide my insight on his character at this point. 

So while I was unsure of how Roach would handle the aftermath of the police-action shooting in June that resulted in the death of Aaron Bailey, an unarmed Black man, I was confident in the mayor and his leadership. I was cautiously hopeful that under Hogsett’s leadership, Roach would do the right thing. 

In my editorial last week, I noted, “It will take strong, courageous leaders like (Mayor Joe) Hogsett … to put procedures and processes in place that not only sound good, but also are actually being adhered to by officers. … Given the flawed criminal justice system and the mistrust that people of color have for police officers, Hogsett and his counterparts nationwide have a tremendous task before them. I think our mayor can be the one to make impactful and positive change. I also believe that the way he addresses the dysfunction between law enforcement and the community will be part of his legacy in Indianapolis.”

Hogsett delivered. 

And Roach delivered. 

This week, people throughout the city were stunned to learn that Roach suspended Michael Dinnsen and Carlton Howard, the two officers who shot and killed Bailey. In addition, Roach also recommended their termination to the Civilian Police Merit Board. 

As I mentioned, people were shocked. 

What Roach and Hogsett did is monumental in a lot of ways, and it certainly deviates from the general actions we see in situations similar to this one throughout the country. 

Hogsett is setting a tone — a strong, no-nonsense tone similar to that which he exhibited during his days as U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Indiana. He is committed to making positive change and holding people accountable — even the boys in blue. 

Roach is also setting a tone. He is letting Indianapolis, and the rest of the country for that matter, know that he believes in police accountability. Perhaps what makes Roach’s decision so powerful is not only what the community thinks, but also the officers on his force. His decision sends a very clear message to the officers of IMPD. That message is that no one is above being reprimanded. Roach is making it clear that he expects his officers to follow policy and procedures. He expects them to be fair, and he is holding them accountable. 

Within a matter of days, Hogsett and Roach have started to chisel away some of the boulders that reflect the tense relationship between police and people of color. 

Are Hogsett and Roach’s actions the end all, be all? No. 

Will some IMPD officers continue to racially profile people of color? Of course. 

There is still much work to be done, and there are still tons of challenges that exist between minorities and law enforcement. However, we are off to a good start. And Hogsett and Roach are well on their way to securing their positive and progressive legacies in Indianapolis.

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