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Outgoing chief cites success, lack of salary, in leaving IMPD

INDIANAPOLIS --In his first interview after stepping down as the chief of IMPD, Troy Riggs said it was a salary ceiling that fueled the desire to end his four-year career as a leader in keeping the streets of Marion County safe.

Mayor Joe Hogsett named Deputy Chief Val Cunningham as Acting IMPD Chief Saturday afternoon pending appointment of a permanent successor.

Riggs said IMPD and Mayor Joe Hogsett’s roles in keeping Indianapolis’ increase in violent crime under control got national attention for the city and the man in charge.

“Towards the end of this year as our numbers were being seen and people were talking about what we’re doing here in Indianapolis, our numbers and partnerships that we received, I started getting numerous phone calls regarding some major chiefs positions, some city manager positions,” said Riggs, “and realized at that point that I’m just hurting my family, and my family’s future, by continuing to turn down tens of thousands of dollars and, in one case, a hundred thousand dollars more than I’m making now.”

National talent headhunters told the chief he should be making more, and Riggs watched as his own top commanders retired to more lucrative private sector positions.

“We’re gonna continue to lose more and more people until we start paying a higher rate.”

A final meeting with Mayor Hogsett just before Christmas cemented Riggs’ decision to resign his $118,000 a year post for potentially better paydays while leaving the department he inherited in shambles years before in capable hands of a command staff that sees the future of policing in Indianapolis.

“I guarantee that if this department continues on a track with this community, this city will lead the nation in innovative change.”

In the fall of 2012 Troy Riggs was the assistant city manager in Corpus Christi, Texas, when he was offered a job in Indianapolis, literally just up the road from his hometown of Louisville, Kentucky.

“When I was coming here I had people call me from around the nation saying, ‘Don’t go.’”

Riggs took a cut in pay to return to the Midwest as boss of Indianapolis’ troubled Department of Public Safety.

As the director, Riggs found a department and administration in disarray.

The budget was a red ink wreck, the patrol cars police officers were driving were often no better, scores of police veterans were retiring with no new recruits in the pipeline, morale was shot, a tsunami of murder and violence was gathering, a patrolman was convicted in an on-duty drunk driving death, department discipline was slow and uncertain, record keeping was crippled, the communications system was in need of an overhaul and the city was mired in a $20 million lease for a Regional Operations Center that was faulty and unsafe.

Then a southside neighborhood blew up.

Out of the Richmond Hill disaster, ten days into his tenure, Riggs commanded a unified city response not only on the law enforcement and investigation side but also in municipal and social services, ministering to the needs of hundreds of residents displaced by the insurance fraud explosion that took two lives.

Then the director went to work on balancing the public safety and police budgets.

“And because of the work we were able to do in other departments we were able to save as a staff about ten million dollars and we started hiring police officers.”

As public safety director and later chief, Riggs oversaw the closure and secure renovation of the ROC, renegotiation of the doomed Interact computer aided dispatch project, launch of a sophisticated data tracking system, reorganization of the police disciplinary process, implementation of community policing across Indianapolis, beefed up narcotics investigations in troubled neighborhoods, increased cooperation with non-profit agencies, improved morale and relations with the Fraternal Order of Police, a rejuvenated police academy and recruitment drive plus the reassignment of dozens of officers to the streets and an enhanced perception of openness and accountability with the citizens his department was sworn to serve.

All at a time when major cities across the nation were experiencing double digit spikes in violent crime and murder.

“We’re trending ten percent lower than the national average,” said Riggs. “We’re trending about six or seven percent lower on the national average for all cities. We’re starting to see progress.”

Indianapolis’ 2016 murder tally stands at 150, a handful more criminal homicides when compared to 2015’s record number, but far below Riggs’ own projections.

“We thought we would be somewhere between 165 and 185,” said the outgoing chief, “and that would put us in line with what the rest of the nation is seeing.”

Riggs credits Hogsett’s commitment to community policing and an increased emphasis on neighborhood enforcement in target areas where poverty, hunger, absentee fathers and crime collide that have resulted in stepped up activity by district commanders, their patrol officers and narcotics detectives.

“When you lock up over two thousand people in just a few months, they’re doing drug activity in the community, you take off hundreds of weapons, $700,000 worth of money and then also hundreds of cars that were confiscated because they were involved in the drug deal, that’s good news for us as a city,” said Riggs, “but its also troubling news, and I’ll tell you why its troubling. It tells us that this activity has been going on for many years and it continues to grow unchecked.

“Its being checked now.”

During Riggs’ years as both chief and public safety director, alongside IMPD Chief Rick Hite, Indianapolis’ reputation for innovative approaches to policing and community cooperation has gained national attention.

“When we’ve had guests in from around the nation, they are coming here to see what we are doing,” said Riggs in a New Year’s Day interview at his northside home during his first full day as a private citizen. “No one right now is doing those targeted enforcement investigations like we’re doing because of the national dialogue they’ve backed off. We haven’t, but the reason we haven’t is because of the information we are receiving from the citizens in those communities and then we’re visiting more homes and offering services than we are doing arrests.”

Riggs is proudest that Indianapolis has avoided the violent community responses that have wracked other American cities even though IMPD has patrolled dozens of large events and protests, investigated a handful of fatal police action shootings and responded to attacks on officers and shootings at district headquarters.

The ex-chief said he is fielding offers from across the nation, including his hometown of Louisville, but may accept a post in Indiana as his career in law enforcement may lead to a public, private, consultant or national institute opportunity.

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