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Saturday, March 6, 2021

Does a new IMPD chief mean the same old same old?

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Another day, another chief of the Indianapolis (now Metropolitan) Police Department. And again, another declaration that “community policing” will be tried.

Indianapolis police have been operating under “community policing” since Steve Goldsmith first took the oath as mayor on New Year’s Day 1992. Since then, there’s been six police chiefs purportedly making community policing and improving police/community relations major goals.

Mayor Goldsmith’s first police chief, James Toler, was supposed to be the point person to initiate community policing to a department whose police/community relations had cratered in the wake of the 1987 Michael Taylor case.

Goldsmith had become a disciple of the community policing philosophies created in the 1980s in theories from criminologists James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling.

Goldsmith’s scheme for community policing was aided by the fact that Toler was the city’s first African-American police chief. Toler’s ascendancy opened some minds and some hearts in an African-American community still rubbed raw by the Michael Taylor debacle.

Unfortunately, Toler seemingly wasn’t as effective as Goldsmith wanted. So, even though Toler had done a good job, as far as our Black community was concerned, Goldsmith replaced him with Donald Christ.

Community policing took a turn for the worst after the infamous 1996 downtown police brawl, when rogue IPD cops attacked Blacks and uttered racial and sexual obscenities on South Meridian Street.

The brawl ended Christ’s tenure, torpedoed Goldsmith’s dreams of being governor and brought police/community relations back in the cellar, where it had been.

When Bart Peterson became mayor in 2000, a new public safety director, veteran IPD officer Robert Turner, and a new Chief, Jerry Barker, signaled a new effort at community policing and improving police/community relations.

But after five years, Peterson got embroiled in his effort to merge the police and Sheriff’s Departments; creating turmoil in the ranks of IPD and confusing the community.

Blacks warmed to the merger because the county’s African-American Sheriff, Frank Anderson, would control the combined department. But opposition within police ranks doomed the smoothness of merger efforts and created friction in contacts with the community.

When Greg Ballard became mayor in 2008, he quickly moved to capture control of the new IMPD away from Sheriff Frank Anderson. But, Ballard and his Public Safety Director, Scott Newman, didn’t realize that the Black community wouldn’t view Ballard’s retaking control of the merged police department to a return to what had been under previous mayors.

Instead, the Black community viewed it as an effort to strip power and responsibility away from a respected African-American law enforcement official.

The result, police/community relations slipped again.

Also, high profile prosecutions of Black police officers for clear-cut wrongdoing didn’t help. Nor did the spurious prosecutions of two Black City-County Council members, Ron Gibson and Doris Minton-McNeil, by overzealous police officers. The Minton-McNeill case was particularly egregious to Blacks. Both councilors were eventually found not guilty.

Then last fall’s case of Officer Candi Perry, an honored officer accused of wrongdoing, though not charged with a crime was dismal. Perry was dragged through the mud by top police brass in a case that to many Blacks seemed overreaching, punitive and excessive.

Now there’s a new out-of-town Public Safety Director, Frank Straub and the sixth police chief in 18 years, Paul Ciesielski.

The new chief has experience as a district commander and also, in a change, experience dealing with the city’s media. Past Indianapolis police chiefs have been extremely wary and fearful of the media. Ciesielski’s past experience as a media relations officer for the department makes him more comfortable with dealing with the media and the community.

Ciesielski and Straub must deal with rebuilding police/Black community relations that’s currently strained. It doesn’t help that the Ballard Administration’s abandonment of affirmative action and their failure to develop a believable program of recruiting, hiring and promoting African Americans makes our Black community extremely wary of this administration’s promise about improving police/community relations.

That’s why the words of the new public safety director are revealing.

Interviewed last Thursday on WTLC-AM1310’s “Afternoons with Amos,” Straub directly addressed Black community wariness of IMPD.

“We will enforce the law equally, with the same diligence with the same aggressiveness and the same respect in all communities,” said Straub.

“Let’s talk on this show a year from now,” Straub continued, “And we’ll prove to you, not by what we say, but by what we do, that we will enforce the law across all communities, across all districts – and we will drive down violent crime.”

I’ve saved the tape. We’ll judge their words and results 52 weeks from now.

What I’m Hearing

in the Streets

Because the 2010 election (Bayh’s desertion, new senator, race for prosecutor, control of the House) is so important, I’ve tried to ignore, for now, the 2011 Indianapolis Mayor’s race. But the prospective candidates just won’t let me.

The latest is the so-called power play against Marion County Democratic workers and leaders by mayoral candidate Brian Williams. Williams signed up 200 candidates for precinct committeepersons. Other candidates, not necessarily recruited by Williams, consist of former Obama campaigners and those signed through the efforts of the Indiana Democratic African-American Caucus.

In the scrum, several key Black Democratic leaders are facing opposition and Williams is being blamed.

Those blaming Williams say he assumed Black Democratic leaders support Melina Kennedy, the mayoral front-runner in terms of money and big endorsements. My read is that many key Black Democratic leaders are hanging back.

Of the four prospective candidates for mayor; Williams, Kennedy, City-County Councilman Jose Evans and former Councilman Ron Gibson, I’ve talked in depth with just one, at their request. I won’t say who. That person knows.

The prospective Democratic mayoral candidates need to spend less time on press releases and playing inside political games and spend more time talking with Black grassroots, business, religious and political leaders, even us columnists and pundits, about their goals for Indianapolis.

The next mayor will face many crises. The Democratic candidates need to stop playing games and start engaging because the incumbent mayor is getting stronger, not weaker, every day, while the Democratic candidates fight like children.

See ‘ya next week!

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