We should consider a public safety auditor for Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department (IMPD).
Mayor Joe Hogsett, depending on your view, either famously or infamously suggested he would be the public safety director and having one other than him was merely another layer of bureaucracy that allowed politicians to blame someone else for public safety failures.
When we look at the data on public safety for the Hogsett administration, we have to acknowledge perhaps a surprising reality for some — overall crime has been going down. From 2016 to 2018 there has been a -1%, -8% and -4% overall crimes rates, respectively.
In fact, even now the city’s preliminary numbers suggest overall property crime is down 12%, violent crime is down 9% and overall crime is down 11%.
The truth is Hogsett has technically been a good public safety director.
Yet, you’d be hard pressed to find too many people in Black neighborhoods who would believe crime rates are improving instead of deteriorating.
Twice within the same aforementioned time period we had over 100 Black males murdered in the city.
And at 52% of use of force incidents, the Black community hasn’t felt these declines and is rightly calling for change.
Black Indianapolis exists in a fundamentally different social and economic reality situation — a problem that the current administration seems to struggle with at a policy level.
We are making great strides on police reform.
Perhaps the most promising statistic was that between 2014 and 2019 there was a 95% reduction in police–action shootings — an achievement that IMPD, community leaders and grassroots activists should appreciate — and try to understand what caused the decline.
A new use–of–force policy and use–of–force board, which I expect will have majority citizen participation is coming.
The city–county council is looking at adding citizens to the general orders committee.
We will have body worn cameras within a matter of weeks.
At the next city–county council meeting there will be a vote on an Indianapolis Commission on African American Males.
There has been quite a bit of community led activity.
In order to safeguard hard fought wins more than a public safety director, the city might be better served by a public safety auditor.
There have been a number of promises that were long delayed in their execution and there are still outstanding issues.
The AACI has had to be an accountability partner on reviewing police action shootings.
There are concerns that the IMPD Accident Review Board has yet to convene in the last several years.
The community knows that a report was produced by the IMPD Office of Diversity and Inclusion, but it hasn’t been made public going on a couple of years now.
A public safety auditor who had the ability to review all police policies, complaints and just make sure promises happened while reporting directly to the chief would cut through red tape of bureaucratic procedures.
Conceptually, they would’ve fought for the many police reforms that were promised and maybe only halfway delivered.
They might also compel IMPD to develop a community violence plan for the year as opposed to the summer that directly connects with the Black community.
Black leaders have not really been engaged by the city like they should be on public safety.
The fights for obvious reforms have undermined credibility in city leadership. If it takes four years to get things done, and when you get them it’s only halfway done why even trust the process?
A secret not widely shared is that research shows citizens defer to officers quite a bit — even on citizen oversight boards. We need these boards for legitimate oversight and the right citizens who seek justice and not a biased position either way — but research shows this will not be a panacea.
A public safety auditor empowered to do their job while remaining insulated from IMPD and mayoral and even city–county council politics (perhaps a naive wish/dream) is one way to ensure the voice of the people is consistently heard even when we aren’t convened on any of the internal boards.
It’s another fighting chance.
This must be said.
We are in a moment where increasing the level of citizen oversight within a police department seems to be one of the main ways law enforcement can regain legitimacy in some segments of our community — the greater irony is that at some point the absence of all of these citizen “checks” will signal true legitimacy and trust.
And at the same time, the good beat officer who truly engages the community and knows the citizens on her beat will do the same thing whether all of the promised and coming reforms are fully implemented or not — and ultimately it is the beat officer that will make us safer.
Our reforms are not for the vast majority of the good and decent officers we have in this city, but rather the handful that ruin it for everyone — and that includes officers who do not break the blue line to get bad officers out of IMPD.
I’m for the good officers and against all of the bad.
Marshawn Wolley is a lecturer, commentator, business owner and civic entrepreneur. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.