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IPS evaluating its police department

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Indianapolis Public Schools is nearing the end of a study of its police department before going to the school board with potential recommendations.

The district partnered with the Public Policy Institute at IUPUI for the study, which started in mid-2020 and will evaluate whether policies are racially equitable what the impact is on students.

The district’s chief of external affairs and general counsel, Ahmed Young, said the study should be completed in two to three months.

In an update for school board commissioners Jan. 28, Young said racial justice protests last spring and summer made for a “perfect vehicle” for the district to evaluate Indianapolis Public Schools Police Department (IPS PD).

The study will include surveys for students, families and staff, as well as focus groups and interviews. One of the questions researchers will try to answer is what factors might influence suspension and expulsion rates.

Data from the U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights show Black students made up 46% of district enrollment in 2017 but 69% of in-school suspensions and 78% of expulsions.

“We want to make sure IPS PD isn’t part of that school-to-prison pipeline,” Young said.

IPS PD Chief Tonia Guynn told the Recorder in August 2019, about a month after she became the department’s first African American female chief, that one of her priorities was to implement school resource officer (SRO) training for officers.

Young told board commissioners the SRO approach has been helpful in building relationships with students. He also said communication between IPS PD and principals has improved.

IPS conducted another study of its police department, again with the Public Policy Institute as a partner, in 2016. The analysis back then said IPS PD “has built a strong framework of operations that addresses many of the best practices” and that personnel “appear to be dedicated, skilled public servants concerned with the well-being of IPS students.”

The district didn’t implement recommendations from that study, though, including creating a review panel made up of citizens who would oversee complaints and internal investigations.

Young said “significant changes” at the district since that study — including board elections and a new superintendent — prevented the district from implementing many of the recommendations.

IPS PD has been part of IPS since the 1940s, according to the 2016 study. The department became a separate, fully trained law enforcement entity within the district in 2007.

At the time of the first study, IPS PD had 55 sergeants and police officers. Young said the department currently has 40 sworn officers.

Contact staff writer Tyler Fenwick at 317-762-7853. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick.

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