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Wednesday, November 25, 2020

I’m just sayin’: Let’s take a look at IMPD’s general orders committee

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Now is the time to reimagine policing, and one good first step should be looking at the general orders committee for Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department. 

In 2019, there were 23,745 uses of force by IMPD, and 12,405 of them were against Black people. Research has shown that Black folks experience both more frequent and even higher levels of use of force, which is why the African American Coalition of Indianapolis (AACI) called for a civilian majority on a use-of-force board. 

Between 2014 and 2019 there has been a 95% reduction in police-action shootings. I think both community leaders and activists, as well as IMPD, can take credit for this achievement, but a lot of Black people died getting to this point, and I don’t know that we know why the reduction occurred. 

The handling of the Dreasjon Reed case has been far from ideal.

We need change and we need to do so thoughtfully, even as we contend with the fact that the city reached 100 homicides sooner this year than ever in city history — and the vast majority of people dying are Black males. 

Guess where decisions about IMPD policy are made that could address use of force; that likely impacted the 95% reduction in police-action shootings; changes to the way the police-action shootings are investigated; and potentially even improved requirements for responsiveness of homicide detectives.

The general orders committee.

IMPD is facing a critical moment that could be more consequential than previous policing reform efforts. 

The national fervor around “disbanding” and “defunding” the police have been among the protest chants over the last several weeks. Disbanding and defunding are not necessarily what you might think. There is an emerging agreement around both ideas that isn’t quite settled yet. 

The ACLU’s language around “reimagining” policing seems to be part of the national conversation. 

The AACI called for using the city’s housing strategy to address crime. This may be an example of what crime fighting might look like in the future, but only time will tell. 

But if any of these changes are to occur — whether we disband or defund or reimagine — the general orders committee will likely have something to do with it. 

We need to be looking at the general orders committee for IMPD. 

This three-person board approves policies for IMPD.  The chief appoints two members, and the FOP selects the third seat. They are the body that will ultimately approve a use-of-force board, which needs to have majority-civilian representation for it to be viewed as credible in our community. 

They don’t write policy, but policy changes must ultimately go through this three-person board for approval. If we are going to move IMPD to the police department we need for the 21st century, there needs to be citizens on that board. 

I’ll concede I don’t think it needs to be a majority. I am imaging a five-person board with two additional citizens — maybe one Democrat and one Republican — or better yet just two community members to remove the politics.

But citizens need to be on that board so that we can help the police understand how their policies look and even feel to the community.  

The police should not police themselves — especially when they are in service to the community.

I can respect the fact that police officers will have a deeper knowledge of the nuances of the work of 21st century policing policy, but it needs to happen with citizens at the table because ultimately their work isn’t disconnected to what citizens will face in the streets.

We have reached a point where citizens need to be more engaged in the decisions of the police department in order to achieve credibility, trust and even legitimacy.  

What I’m hearing…

By the time this column is posted, I expect we will be over 100 homicides, as we hit that macabre statistic last week. 

The vast majority of the homicides are of Black people and mostly Black males. These assailants of Black people move about in our community but are unknown to law enforcement. There’s still too many Black people killing Black people. 

We have to recognize state violence in all of its manifestations, which includes schools where the racial achievement gaps persist unabated, decisions to allow food deserts to exist, government policies that let redlining occur and for our communities to face challenges that government should’ve addressed.

We aren’t killing each other because something is genetically wrong with us. It’s because when you put humans in certain conditions, the propensity for violence to occur increases for white, Latinx or Black people. 

We can’t hide from this problem. The numbers of Black homicides are their own truth. When someone dies, it matters to our community. It is traumatic.

We need the capacity to act.

Finally, the Black community owes a debt of gratitude to city-county councilor Maggie Lewis, who filed a proposal for the creation of an Indianapolis Commission on the Social Status of Black Males. She did this for us. We may very well increase our capacity to act.

Marshawn Wolley is a lecturer, commentator, business owner and civic entrepreneur. Contact him at marshawnwolley@gmail.com.

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