Editor’s Note: Following this article’s publication (December 30, 2017) Mayor Hogsett named Valerie Cunningham the Acting Chief of Police for the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department. Acting Chief Cunningham has served with Indianapolis Police Department/Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department for 24 years. She is currently the Deputy Chief of the Patrol Division and serves as Night Watch Commander.
A year ago, Joseph Hogsett took the podium at the packed Hilbert Circle Theatre and addressed fellow politicians and citizens of Indianapolis. The bipartisan (per his request) inauguration event was centered on the theme of unity. “We are called as one people,” he declared, “for we are one city.” He spoke on his plans for fixing the city’s budget and helping the youth and the impoverished. He also spoke at length on the topic of crime, an issue that has been a primary focal point of his first year in office.
In October, the City-County Council voted to approve the $1.1 billion budget for 2017, which included significant increases in public safety spending. This summer, in concert with various city agencies, Hogsett launched Project Indy, a youth jobs initiative that sought to provide 1,000 employment opportunities for Indianapolis teens. Earlier this month, he announced big changes coming to the criminal justice system in Indianapolis with a greater focus on services over incarceration.
Soon after this announcement and shortly before his talk with the Recorder, Hogsett learned another big change was on the horizon: His chief of police, Troy Riggs, would be stepping down. The morning after the impending resignation was announced was a busy one for the mayor, as he spent time in meetings with top city officials. Later that afternoon, a talk was to be had with city leaders to discuss the game plan. City-County Council Republican Minority Leader Mike McQuillen was slated to be in attendance, as well as the Marion County sheriff and prosecutor, command staff of IMPD and the mayor’s leadership team. Hogsett hoped the meeting would be productive, as they would have to decide then whether to “cast the nets abroad” or look within for a qualified candidate. Time is undoubtedly of the essence, as Indy is closing out 2016 as the deadliest year in its history.
The Recorder sat down with Hogsett to discuss some of the highs and lows of his first year.
Some responses have been edited for brevity.
Indianapolis Recorder Newspaper: What has this first year been like for you? What do you feel has gone well, and what have been some low points?
Hogsett: The low points are any time you come to work in the morning at 9:30 and you’re informed that at 2 o’clock, there will be an announcement made by a company, Carrier in this instance, where 1,400 families on the west side of Indy are going to lose their jobs. That’s a low day. Or Rexnord, for that matter, where 350 workers’ jobs are moving to Mexico. As well as low points in the morning where you get up and drive to work, and the first thing that you’re confronted with is a summary report of police-related actions the night before, and you see the level of aggravated assaults or homicides that have taken place in the last 12–18 hours.
The high points are what we’ve been able to do for neighborhoods. Some examples are lifting the 35-year moratorium on streetlights, the efforts made to rehab existing homes that have been worn or tearing down dilapidated homes, and the economic investments of affordable housing. The budget passing with significant bipartisan support and the summer jobs program have been high points, as well. While we’ve got an ambitious agenda to pursue, I think we’ve scored in 2016 a good foundation that can be built upon, expanded and improved in 2017 and through the rest of the term.
Your administration recently announced it would be approaching tax-increment financing (TIF) funds a bit differently by shifting more of the risk to developers and away from the city. How do you think this will impact attracting developers to the city, and what does it mean for development of the city’s neighborhoods?
We are making a conscious effort to bring greater balance to development so that the $17 million the citizens of Indy paid for the Flaherty & Collins development — and I’m hopeful that it is successful; I don’t wish it ill —that was an instance where the city really became in no small measure a financing agent, and what we’re trying to do is move away from TIF funds being used as city incentives and city incentives alone, to a developer-backed bond system, a system where the developer more skin in the game and puts more of the developer’s own money at risk, which will save taxpayers dollars. Let me also say we will remain sensitive to the needs of our downtown. I’m not here to tell you that we won’t be continuing to invest in the downtown area, but it is true that this administration has made a commitment and is in the stages of honoring that commitment to make sure that the neighborhoods, particularly those that are around the urban center core, are getting attention. Those neighborhoods deserve the city’s attention, and they are finally getting it.
Shortly after coming into office, you convened a group of the city’s school superintendents to focus on education issues in the city. What improvements have you seen since that time, and what concerns do you still have?
We’re always talking about funding challenges. Those are ever-present, and I do intend to be an outspoken proponent for public school finding in this upcoming session of the General Assembly. The areas that I’ve been most concerned about are suspensions, expulsions and disciplinary decisions made at the local school corporation level — decisions that I experienced as U.S. Attorney and which our criminal justice system experiences, as what has become the school-to-prison pipeline. I understand that the schools must deal with misbehavior and with aggressive attitudes that students may possess, but it is my profound belief that expelling or suspending them, while beneficial in the short term, ends in a long-term problem. You are sending these kids out into the streets, and who is waiting on them? Gangs, the drug trade and other types of behavior that, frankly, we need to be helping them avoid, not sending them right into the waiting arms of. In our conversations, and the school superintendents have been extraordinarily responsive, a lot of those convos have been about how they can provide effective alternatives. We’ve also engaged our public school leaders in that part of criminal justice reform that deals with juveniles. When we talk about criminal justice reform, we’re not just talking about adults; we’re talking about families in their entirety.
You’ve spent a lot of time focused on criminal justice. You mentioned recently that our criminal justice system is “bursting at the seams.” You’ve announced an overhaul, and while several people have spoken out in support, there are some who are skeptical, primarily about the proposed criminal justice center. In the last administration, plans for a center came under scrutiny. What do you have to say about the differences between your plan and what has been offered in the past?
I think the difference is that the proposals that have been previously offered were facilities-driven. When the announcement was made, it wasn’t an announcement about criminal justice and how it is affected in the city. Rather, it was, ‘We need a new jail. It’s going to go at this location, it’ll have 3,000 beds, and we’re gonna have an arrestee processing center,’ and, I mean … it was all about buildings. The announcement we made about comprehensive criminal justice reform in Marion County is a comprehensive look at what is and isn’t working. How do we not ask the question how many jail beds need to be built or constructed? I want the question to be how many jail beds can we avoid. How can we treat people who really have no business being incarcerated? How do we help them get back on their feet and re-enter society in ways that are meaningful and productive?
Over 80 percent of the people in the Marion County Jail currently suffer from some form of substance abuse or addiction, which is driving their behavior when they’re not incarcerated. These people are taking up a bed and a jail cell at $82 a day for taxpayers in Marion County, and they’re getting very little, if any, treatment. By the same token, 30–40 percent of the people have some form of mental illness, and they’re not being treated. This task force has recommended that before you start building things, figure out how to keep people out of jail. IndyCAN was very vocal in opposition to the previous plan, and I am grateful that thus far, they have been extremely supportive of this type of approach. It only makes sense to focus on a criminal justice system that is fair and colorblind. This focuses on how many off-ramps we can provide people to get off that highway to incarceration.
On Riggs’ resignation, some feel as if there is a bit of dysfunction within the department. Should people be concerned?
There has been an enormous amount of change within IMPD. I worked with both Riggs and (previous IMPD Chief Rick) Hite as U.S. Attorney. To answer your question, I’d have to defer to Troy Riggs. Your assessment is accurate. I think Troy was a good selection as police chief. He obviously knew what the salary was when he accepted the position. How those circumstances have changed, you’d have to ask him. At the press conference, he said, ‘I’m 50. I’ve been in police work for 27 years, and I have a son in college and one about to go to college. My wife and I have decided that it is in our family’s best interest to think about long-term financial security.’ I can’t fault him for that. I’m disappointed that he’s leaving, but the lesson is learned. I think IMPD does deserve stability, so in our selection process for the next chief, I’ll put emphasis and a premium on those qualified candidates that have a commitment to serving, at minimum, the rest of my term.