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Thursday, January 21, 2021

Hogsett gets to work revamping public safety

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Mayor-elect Joe Hogsett is already setting a tone for his administration, and his official mayoral duties haven’t even begun yet.

That’s a good sign.

Throughout his campaign, Hogsett touted bipartisanship, inclusion and public safety. So far, he’s executed fairly well in those areas.

Shortly after Election Day, Hogsett announced his transition team and, putting truth to his words, the team is reflective of people who represent different political backgrounds, genders, ethnicities and age ranges. The day before Thanksgiving, Hogsett sent another clear message when he invited both Republican and Democratic City-County Council members to participate in his Jan. 1 swearing in. It’s said the New Year’s Day event will be an unprecedented show of unity. Hopefully the inclusive tone that Hogsett has set will carry on in the years to come so the council and the mayor can work together in a harmonious manner to make Indianapolis better. Lord knows that hasn’t been the case with Mayor Greg Ballard’s administration. The city is tired of partisanship. With Hogsett, I think we are in for a pleasant surprise that includes unity across various demographics.

While much of Indianapolis seems to be pleased with Hogsett’s election and his post-campaign efforts, some of his supporters questioned his decision to appoint former Director of Public Safety Troy Riggs to chief of police over the beloved Rick Hite, whose tenure as police head will end Dec. 31.

Hite was a community favorite who really increased the visibility of IMPD in the city. No event was too large or small, nor was any media outlet too demanding for Hite. He rose to the occasion time and time again, and he helped foster positive relationships between the police and the community — particularly the African-American community. Hite also developed a strong rapport with police officers of different ethnicities, which many on the force have told me they appreciate.

I don’t think Hite did anything wrong; we just need a different approach to tackle the issue of crime. Hite is a wonderful man with an extensive history in law enforcement, but crime is up and it has been for a long time.

Something had to be done.

While many people credit politics as the driving force for Hogsett’s decision, I think otherwise. I believe Hogsett made his decision based on the need for improved public safety, as well as his plan for the execution of those needs. By having the chief of police report directly to him — another change announced Tuesday — Hogsett is doing what many companies have implemented in recent years: doing more with fewer people. Hogsett told reporters he’d be looking at the possibility of eliminating the public safety director position entirely. By eliminating the position, Hogsett would save money while also having someone with the combined skillset of a director and officer serving as chief of police. It is a sad transition for many in the community, but I think it makes sense. Such a move was not done for political favoritism reasons, because Riggs was appointed under Ballard, a Republican. Hogsett is a Democrat, so dismissing his Riggs appointment as partisan politics is not only untrue, but also unwarranted.

I have stated several times in this column and I will do so now: I have a tremendous amount of respect for Troy Riggs and Rick Hite. I am eager to see what Riggs will do in this new role, but I’m also confident he has what it takes. Hite’s history in law enforcement is commendable, and I know he will land on his feet.

Many people in the community are concerned that Hogsett, who is a former federal prosecutor, will impose a strict policy for harshly reprimanding people for minor offenses, adding to the issues of jail overcrowding and claims of discrimination and racial profiling. Indiana’s crime rate has increased significantly, so there needs to be swift action that will lead to swift change, but Hogsett and Riggs will have to be fair in their quests. They will have to look at criminals as a whole and not focus on the stereotypical (Black) perpetrators that many police departments across the country unfairly target. There must be a push for quality of arrests over quantity of arrests. We will be watching.

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