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Q&A with IMPD Chief Randal Taylor

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The Indianapolis Recorder sat down with Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department Chief Randal Taylor for an interview Feb. 25 at his office in the City-County Building.

Click here to read our article from the interview.

Below is a transcript of the interview. The transcript has been lightly edited for clarity and brevity.

Indianapolis Recorder: I know you have some new boards — the General Orders Board and Use of Force Review Board. How’s that going?

Randal Taylor: We actually start training the General Orders Board this weekend. Use of Force is still coming along, so neither of those boards are active yet. But part of it will be the training for the civilian portions of those. We look forward to see how that goes.

IR: Do you have a timeline for when those boards will be active?

RT: I don’t think the training is going to take particularly long. I would imagine potentially sometime in the month of March.

IR: One of the things the National Institute for Criminal Justice Reform said in its report from May 2020 is three different IMPD units could be looking at the same person and not know it. Do you think that was true then, and is it true now?

RT: I would say there’s probably potential for that to happen. I think we’ve had some success in kind of breaking down those silos and stuff. Different units could be looking at people for different things. Ultimately, you could be charged with a fraud, but you could also be looked at from the standpoint of a theft, and you could also be looked at from the standpoint of an aggravated battery. Those are three different charges that are gonna come together, so if you’re involved in all those things, three different units could look at you. It’s probably more important that the units just know what the other units are doing, as opposed to whether or not a person is charged with multiple crimes.

IR: Do you think that’s improved?

RT: I think there’s more conversations across the board in different units. Where I see it probably the most is when we have the violent crime units talk a lot about who the targets are. They may work with the Crime Gun Intelligence Center. That person, obviously, is potentially involved in other crime, so detectives that may be working aggravated assault can certainly know what the CGIC people are doing, and I think that has opened up a little bit.

IR: You can go to pretty much any city where there were protests or riots last year, and you can find a recent example of the police department talking about building community trust, but people are still angry. The same thing is true here. What gives you the persistence on that message?

RT: That’s a tough one, right? Because I can talk to a certain group and make some headway with them and think things are better, but then there’s another group that I haven’t talked to, and they’re not happy. Really just going about opening up those doors of communication on all those different groups. And it can’t be a one-and-done, you know? We’re not gonna have that conversation for 30 minutes or an hour or even two hours and think that it’s a done deal. These are conversations that are gonna have to continue to happen.

One of the things I’m particularly excited about is our Community Engagement Bureau. Everything community, they’re gonna have some hand in it. I have work to do, but they’re gonna be the front-facing portion of the department’s efforts to build community trust and things like that. And they’ve done that for a while. This is the same unit that has the Police Athletic League in it. IMPD Cares is part of that. That’s new. We used to have the OK program, which stood for “our kids.” It was a kid program, but it was there to encourage young Black males to basically do their best in school and consider postsecondary education and those kind of things. IMPD Cares now expands that not only to males but females and all races, which I think we have to consider the diversity of things. That unit is perfectly outfitted to make those kind of inroads.

I think we’re moving in the right direction. Obviously, I don’t know that I’ll ever be satisfied, but I think as these things start happening and we spot check the community, I think we’ll find that more of them are satisfied with the things we’re doing and what we’re trying to accomplish.

IR: Let’s say you get to that point where you have a good relationship with the community. What is IMPD’s ideal role in that situation?

RT: That’s gonna be an ongoing thing. We’re never gonna get there. Even if we drop the homicide numbers and the murder murders — obviously that’s a goal — that can be separate from our relationship with the community. We want people to feel good about telling us about crimes and other things, but the other part of that is I just want the community to be at least satisfied with what the department is doing.

I told someone a while ago that there was a nice day last year — this was even after the turbulence downtown and stuff — but there was a nice day, and my wife and I were out driving downtown and on the near east side, and people were just out, and it just felt right. People were barbecuing; they were having a good time. I just love to see that. I know in certain neighborhoods, that stuff doesn’t happen because of fears of violence. I want to make sure that people are happy going out and not worried about walking in their neighborhood and being accosted or those kinds of things. I think everybody deserves the ability to do that regardless of what part of town you live in.

That’s a lofty goal. That’s something that we have to strive to do. Because of that, we’re always going to be out there working. The things that we’ve done with beat policing, I hope to see increases in that, not only in the standpoint from the number of beats but making sure that officers are taking advantage of those opportunities to get out and meet people where they’re at. There’s plenty of times we’re out in the neighborhood and there’s no crime that we’re investigating; we’re patrolling, or we’re going through. But the goal in that whole beat policing is that officers get out of their car and get to know who’s living there, whether it’s encouraging a young person or encouraging an adult, just having a decent conversation and letting people know, look, we’re not different from you.

It doesn’t have to be an us-versus-them kind of mentality. We’ve got things to do. We know you’ve got a life to live. We want to make sure that you’re safe in it. We’re there for them. Hopefully we’ll see some positive signs as that gets going.

IR: How many beats are you at right now?

RT: 107.

IR: What’s the goal?

RT: I don’t have a particular number in mind. I couldn’t tell you I want 150 or 200, but the advantage to those beats are, as you get more of them, that means the officers assigned to those beats have less area to be concerned with, which should allow them to get out of the car and meet people. If you have a smaller area to patrol, then you should know that area pretty well. The hope is you’ll be able to patrol that area well enough that maybe you can see some of those crimes drop.

IR: I know the argument for beat policing from your end, but I also know I’ve talked to quite a few people who view police trying to talk to them as suspect. How do you get past that?

RT: Each officer’s gonna have to go. I’ve had conversations with people, and they don’t really want to have a conversation with me. That’s obvious pretty early on, and I’m not gonna force those conversations. But I think for a majority of people, they would like to be able to have those relationships with those officers.

For those that don’t for whatever reason — had a bad experience in the past or maybe they’re involved in criminal activity, I don’t know — but for those people, we’re not gonna force it on them. But we have to make that effort because I think a majority of people in those neighborhoods are gonna welcome those kind of relationships with the police.

IR: In an interview with Indy Monthly, you talked about things you wish you would’ve shared earlier about the Dreasjon Reed case. Was there a moment when you started having regrets about the way that happened from your end?

RT: It was probably pretty early on, actually. I think I had a good beat on what transpired there, and I felt we needed to get that message out, but there were other considerations: criminal case and now civil cases and those kinds of things that had to be taken into account.

In all honesty, I felt early that I should have said more, at least to put the community at ease in knowing what the department had done, how our officers responded and those kind of things. I think there were some blanks left unfilled, and some people chose to fill those blanks with their own narrative, and those narratives weren’t necessarily true. A lot of it was opinion. I’ve told people before, we may not do everything right, but I think we do most of the things right, and where we have room to improve, I’ll never have an issue with trying to improve those things. But in that situation, I really felt that I should’ve got out there a little earlier and filled in those blanks.

IR: What blanks?

RT: You know, I was basically asked to limit my conversations about the actual event and stuff. There was some question at one time that Mr. Reed didn’t have a weapon and those kind of things, and we knew that was not the case right from the get-go. That got out there and then got legs, and I think people were like, oh, IMPD has killed an unarmed Black man. Well, that wasn’t the truth of the matter.

Now, people can decide whether they believe us or not, right? I can make factual statements about that case, and people can say, “I don’t believe it.” But in that case, I thought that was one of those ones that people need to know. And I can’t help you really if you choose not to believe it, but I’m gonna put out the factual basis for it, and you’ll make your own mind up.

IR: Assistant Chief Chris Bailey told media right away that Reed had a gun and fired. From your position, when it’s two or three days later, and you’re asked to limit your conversation, what are the things you wanted to say?

RT: It was the day of I was asked to limit my conversations.

IR: Who asked you?

RT: That’s not important. Someone that I have to work with is about all I’m gonna say about that. That’s one of those things that moving forward from that, I’ve told that person, look, I’ve got a community to consider, and they need to know some things. I understand you’ve got your concerns, but I’ve got my concerns as well. I think that was a learning experience. I feel better for it.

We’ve put out a number of things since then. Granted, back then we didn’t have the heavy use of body-worn cameras like we do now, which I think is a benefit. Sometimes we have the opportunity to have a video from different places — closer places. There were some videos from that deal as well, but nothing really close up on it. Lately, we’ve had the benefit in a number of shootings to have those videos available, and we’ve put those videos out as we can, which I think has been a big plus.

IR: Where are you with body cam deployment?

RT: They’re all out. We’re still trying to fit some specialty units like the SWAT Team. And really, the SWAT Team deal is their uniform is not the typical uniform, so they have to have special mounts to mount that camera different on that uniform. There shouldn’t be too many situations where we don’t have a body camera available.

IR: I see a parallel with what we’re seeing right now with the vaccine rollout and the inherent distrust of medical professionals. There’s all these town halls, but they don’t trust you. It doesn’t matter if you’re saying the truth; they don’t trust you. I see a parallel with police. You can give the truth, but there’s a lack of trust there. How do you overcome that?

RT: For me, it’s just about being out there and getting involved. Sometimes I just go out in my car and meet people. But continuing to meet with groups. They’ve gotta get to know me, and they still may not trust me, and you’ve gotta look at why. I’ve told people this before: I’ve been in 34 years of law enforcement. I understand to some extent why there’s not trust. Officers across the nation haven’t always done it right, and that gives people reason to be distrustful, but you can’t paint all law enforcement with that same broad brush and think that it works. It’s just like as a Black man, I don’t want to be painted with a broad brush either. If you had an issue with someone of color, I don’t want you thinking I’m that too because we’re the same color, right? It’s not fair. It’s the same thing with law enforcement.

People have to get to know each other. We have to work through transparency. It’s just like anything. There’s always gonna be that group that doesn’t believe you for whatever reason. You just have to try to do your best to explain it, factual things if you can do it. I get body cameras, but it’s like I warn people, body cameras aren’t infallible from the standpoint of sometimes they don’t catch what you think they should catch. It’s technology. But the community asked for that, and we were finally able to do that, and I think for the most part they’ll be happy with it. But there’s still gonna be people that think we manipulate the system and stuff, which we don’t. There will be people that’ll say that.

IR: Going back to last summer, there were a lot of demands for you, IMPD and the city. I think everyone understands that this stuff can’t happen as quickly as we want it to, but do you wish people would still be more patient with you, even though you have to know that’s a tough ask?

RT: Of course I would like them to be patient, but like I said, I’ve been around, and even in this first year as being chief, I know that’s probably more of a pipe dream. I try to react as quickly as I can and get information out as quickly as I can and put people at ease as quickly as I can, but for some, it’s not gonna be quick enough.

It’s not always on me. I have bosses. I have things that I have to abide by legally. There’s certain aspects of that that I’m probably not gonna be able to react as quickly as you want. In those places that I can, I will.

IR: I know it was a difficult first year as chief for you, but can you look back and see things you’re proud of personally or with the department?

RT: Yeah, it was different than what I expected in that first year. We had Breann Leath’s death, which was terrible. We had disturbances downtown. We had COVID. We had officer-involved shootings. You name it, and we seem to have had it.

But I’ve always felt honestly that God put me in this position for a reason at this particular time. Whether that lasts for three more years or longer than that or shorter than that, I feel good about the job. I feel good about some of the changes.

People talk to me about the diversity of the department, and I have control over that to a certain extent. When we’re recruiting, if we want more minorities — whether Black or Hispanic or Asian or whatever — it’s gotta start with the recruiting, and it’s gotta start with getting you in the door and taking you through the phases of that and getting prepared and then ultimately offering you the job. I think we’ve made strides in that. Numbers aren’t exactly where I want them, but I’ve always felt the department should pretty much look like what the community looks like.

We’re not there at this point, but I do have options when it comes to my appointed positions. Those are the higher-ranking things I get to choose. Fortunately, we’ve got a number of minorities, both women and people of color, that are very deserving and do excellent jobs, and I’ve promoted them. They’re there, and I can control that. The sergeant, lieutenant, captain rank, there’s a list. If I’m promoting 10 people, then the 10 people that are gonna get promoted on those lists are the top 10 sergeants, lieutenants and captains. We’re getting there. We’re striving for that. I’ve gotta get you in the door, like I said.

You have to find that balance too. It can’t be a thing where I flip all the way over to this side and say no one’s getting promoted unless they’re a minority, either a female or a person of color. I can’t do that either. You’ve got great people on this department of all races, skin types, religions and genders, so I’ve gotta keep that balance.

IR: You say you feel like God put you in this position right now for a reason. What role does faith play for you in this job?

RT: It’s huge. My predecessor, Bryan Roach, was also a man of faith. It’s each person’s choice, right, but I don’t know how you could do this job without it in reality because many times it seems like nobody’s happy with what you do. It doesn’t matter what your decisions are, you’re always gonna have some pushback somewhere, and I try to use my faith to weed out where I need to be with that and be comfortable with the decisions I’m making. But of course trying to do my best to take into account everybody’s personal experiences and desires and finding a way to meld that into something the department can do, ultimately keeping an officer’s safety issues in hand and how the officers feel, how the community feels, how my people who are my bosses feel about it, the city-county council, all those different people that a lot of times are on the same page, but oftentimes they’re not also. I use my faith to get me through that and keep me sane.

IR: The Indiana Senate bill to basically take over IMPD got kicked down the road to a study session, but as you’ve seen, these things don’t seem to go away when it comes to Indianapolis. Are you worried about that coming back?

RT: I have concerns with it. I don’t know how much control I have over that. I’m hoping rational minds will ultimately win out there. It’s just like with a lot of things nationally right now and even in our boards that we talked about. Originally, I was all for civilian participation in those boards, then it went from participation to being a majority of it. They haven’t started, so I don’t know how that one ends. The only thing I’ve said is I’m committed to trying to make that work the best it can. And I think it can. Ultimately, I think we’ll be fine with it, but everybody’s got their own mindset on what should be happening. Sometimes, some of these bills that come about, I don’t get it, but it is what it is, and we’ve still got to operate within it.

IR: With the boards that have civilian majorities and not just participation, can you think of something specific that a civilian doesn’t quite understand about the police department that will be an obstacle?

RT: That would be the concern, but that’s why we’ve got this training going on. I’ll be out there to welcome them, and I’ll spot check them as we go on. I fully plan on having conversations with them, and if we get to a point where there’s some kind of hiccup, hopefully I’ll be able to step in and at least give my opinion and try to set them right.

By the same token, I don’t think it’s bad to have civilians who are gonna look at things different. Like I said, 34 years in law enforcement, I know my mind is set in a certain way on certain things, and it’s not a bad thing to have it come from a different direction, as long as it’s not gonna put our officers in some kind of safety jeopardy or something like that. I think we’re probably gonna be on the same page much more than we’re not. When it comes to those times when we’re not, then we’ll see how that all pans out.

I know most of the people on the board — some better than others — so I think we’ll be able to work it through just fine. And maybe this will be an example moving forward for Indianapolis and how it relates to other cities for how those things can be accomplished. That’s what I’m hoping for.

IR: In your 34 years in law enforcement, was there ever a time — maybe especially early — where it was difficult to be a Black man and in law enforcement?

RT: Nothing traumatic. Granted, I started in my hometown, so part of those issues with not just Black officers, but any officer in Champaign, Illinois, is a lot smaller than Indianapolis. You get people you went to high school with, and they may not appreciate you as much, especially if you’re making an arrest. They may think they should be given some kind of slack because we knew each other or something like that.

I won’t say I haven’t seen racism in law enforcement as it relates to the Black officer. I think we’ve all had to deal with that, but fortunately not to the point where I think it’s delayed my career or anything like that. Champaign was a class act when I was there; I imagine they still are. But most of it is probably more in the community than on the department.

Now, I heard some things. People are people, right?

IR: Like what?

RT: Well, in previous departments I’ve heard radio traffic before, disparaging things said about maybe a Black suspect, which is uncalled for. Now, that’s not directed at me per se, but the fact that you could have that attitude.

In that time, I’ve seen good things happen in law enforcement, and I’ve seen some bad things. Fortunately, I think the good outweighs the bad by far. The things we’ve done here on the department from the standpoint of not having the no-knock warrants and stuff, that was generated by the officers. That wasn’t something I looked at and saw with Breonna Taylor or something like that; those were things that were happening before that, and officers had concerns about it, partially because of their own safety, but I can’t help but think that partially because no one wants to put the community in jeopardy. Whenever we have these shootings, we don’t have any officers who say, “I want to go out and get in a shootout tonight.” It doesn’t work like that.

Part of what I’m hoping also is to get some community responsibility too. Lately, it’s all the police department. We’re the ones that have to make those changes. Even though I’ll acknowledge we do have to make changes, sometimes when you look at the backstory of what happened, there’s some community stuff in there with the people we’re going after that had they not done what they did, we wouldn’t have had that incident. Some of me looks for some of that to change too. Everyone wants respect, but you can’t just go and do anything you want and not think there’s a consequence. That doesn’t work in life, period. I’m really hoping to make some strides there. And those things should walk hand in hand. The police department should be striving to do its best, but people in the community need to be striving to do their best as well. I think as we get closer to those things and that happens more and more, I think we’ll find that we get along pretty well.

IR: Was there anything else you wanted to say?

RT: A couple things. I’m hoping people realize that they really do have a good police department, that the men and women of this police department really do care about them and really strive to do things. We had a couple incidents — the murders on Adams Street — we had an officer that was able to apply a tourniquet to that young man who survived, probably saving his life. Granted, he was the victim of his brother shooting him, but our officers responded quickly and helped out there.

We’ve had ones where we’ve done the shooting, and it doesn’t amaze me because I’m not surprised and I know what our policy says, but I’ve seen officers who’ve been in shootouts that once that shooting ends have quickly gone in to render aid to the person we shot. I don’t know that people realize that someone basically just tried to take your life, but now you’ve flipped into “I’ve got to save that person’s life.” I think that’s incredible. I think that is typical of the kind of officers we have.

We did a load-and-go the other day on a woman. Unfortunately, she didn’t survive. Our load-and-goes are basically where the injury is so critical we can’t wait for medical assistance. We’re gonna get that person to the hospital as quickly as we can, and that’s what was attempted there. We usually reserve that for an officer that’s been shot, but in this case we stepped out with a civilian. Unfortunately, it didn’t pan out, but not a lack of effort on our part.

The other thing is I hope people realize is the Community Resource District Councils, that’s a huge opportunity for the community to be involved with things. The great things about the CRDCs is they’re each in a different district. So east district can have a very different concern about what’s going on there than northwest district or southeast district or southwest. Those people in those CRDCs are drawn from people in those particular districts, the people that live there. We’ll listen to what those concerns are, and we’ll do our part to help bring those to the right conclusion and let those citizens decide what is the issue so each commander knows what’s going on in their district as far as crime is concerned. Maybe the community is not as concerned about crime as they are waste that’s just been left around. We can hook them up with people to get that taken care of. Each district is gonna have a different flavor, but I think that’s a great start to things.

The other thing I’ll mention is we’re working on a meeting group here that should meet the first week in March that kind of goes back to the old-school premise when we first started under former Chief Jerry Barker that delt with community policing and making sure the community was involved. Looking at that a little bit different. Hopefully we’ll talk about those things like non-fatal shootings and those murders and those homicides and find ways to build that relationship to the point where we can really have that impact.

That’s probably No. 1 on my list, is driving down those numbers for homicides, murders and non-fatal shootings. But like I’ve said so many times before, we’re always reacting, you know? So a murder occurs, we have to react to it. I don’t want us to have to react. I want us to be preventative in some kind of way, and I think that’s gonna happen through making sure the community has those conversations with those people who we know are violent.

We just had an example of that the other day. The Crime Gun Intelligence Center unit focuses on people that are violent, and we get that through their use of guns. They identify those people, and then they go after them for murders and stuff like that. I think a lot of the community knows who’s gonna be the next suspect. How do we reach that person? How do we change that mind? How do we change that heart in that person that they don’t feel the need to pull that trigger?

Because some of the reasonings behind them are just ridiculous. I gotta shoot you because I was trying to get that parking spot. I gotta shoot you because you posted something negative about me on a social media page. I gotta shoot you because we like the same woman. It’s just crazy. We’ve gotta find a way to get past that.

In all honesty, a lot of that is happening in the community of color, and we’ve gotta be better than that. We’ve gotta get past that. It’s time to stop making excuses for that stuff. If you’re gonna say that it’s because of some systemic racist issue or something like that, fine, I’ll help you try to work that out. But we all know people that have been treated unfairly, whether in jobs or housing or food insecurities or education or whatever, that don’t go around shooting other people or killing other people. We’ve gotta find a way around that.

Driving down murders and non-fatal shootings and then making sure as a community — whether an underserved community, minority community or whatever — we’ve gotta find a way to get to the point where we’re not reacting to it because we’ve worked on that person and gave them different tools, different options, as opposed to pulling the trigger.

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