INDIANAPOLIS, Ind.-- It's not as if Bryan Roach is a stranger to the people he’s sworn to protect and serve in Indianapolis.
During his more than two decades on the city’s police force, Roach worked the streets of the north side as a rookie, bought drugs as a narcotics detective and commanded IMPD’s Southwest District in the Haughville area before being brought inside as Deputy Chief of Administration.
Quiet and self-effacing, Roach would admittedly rather spend his days submerged in the minutiae of running the state’s largest police department: Are there enough working patrol cars? What are IMPD’s overtime costs? Where does the latest data indicate the department’s limited number of officers should be assigned? Is there adequate money in the budget to hire enough recruits to outpace the number of retirees?
Roach’s command of IMPD’s “inside baseball” was a key factor in Joe Hogsett’s decision to name the 26-year veteran as his new chief with a commitment to lead the department through the end of the mayor’s first term.
That and Roach’s promise to carry out the community policing initiatives began by his predecessors Rick Hite and Troy Riggs.
Now, Roach is moving from behind the scenes to center stage as the face of IMPD.
“I’m excited about that part because I think it's needed and it builds that trust so it's easy to take direction or understand where the police department wants to go and sit back in that office and kind of make that happen,” he said.
Roach began his fourth day on the job before dawn, making the tour of Indianapolis morning news radio and talk shows before attending a breakfast at the Indianapolis Urban League in celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day as his first full day venture into the public wearing the chief’s title.
“The more important thing for me is to get the community to know Bryan Roach, not necessarily the uniform or the authority, but what my ideals are and who I am and to get them to start trusting me,” he said.
As more experienced pols like his boss and Congressman Andre Carson worked the room, Roach held back and observed, shaking hands with the occasional attendee who approached and accepting an introduction by Hogsett.
“There’s a lot of people in this city that I think want to help that attend events like this,” said the chief, “so it's up to me to figure out who those people are and together try to turn the tide the path that were going down around.”
Carson pronounced himself pleased with Hogsett’s choice to protect the city the congressman represents in Washington.
“I think Indianapolis is an example nationwide in terms of adopting one of the 12 policing models and that’s community policing. I think we do it quite well. I think we have more work to do but I’m excited.”
Carson is a former Indiana State Excise Police Officer who said he is optimistic that the support IMPD received during the Obama Administration will be replicated under a Donald Trump White House.
“I think that there’s a chance there with my buddy Vice President-elect Pence. I think that he will be an advocate for the great Hoosier State,” he said.
Following the breakfast, Roach and a pair of his top commanders fell in line for a march to the Madame C.J. Walker Theater to attend a program and panel discussion dedicated to the legacy of Dr. King.
Frederick Banks walked along Roach’s side and reminisced about what it was like to live in the neighborhood just northwest of downtown back in the day.
“You know I grew up on this street over there in Lockfield and we talked about police officers that I went to school with and worked with,” said Banks. “He’s a different generation but he’s familiar and heard about it.”
From a time when Indiana Avenue was known for its fabulous jazz and rough-and-tumble nightlife, Banks said he has learned there is only one way for the city’s police chief to protect the people of his hometown.
“Come together,” said Banks. “Understand each other. It takes a whole neighborhood, a whole community, to solve these problems. One person, one organization can’t do it all.”
Jessica Johnson made the two-block walk with her children and agreed and said she was happy to see the city’s new chief meeting the community.
“It's very important because that allows us to know him and allows him to know us," she said. "To know what is he going to do to help better the city, what can we do to help him, because it takes just more than him, it takes just more than the police, it takes just more the government, it takes us the community. We live in these streets so if we can’t help him, how is he going to know what we need to do?”
Roach said he realized that the goodwill and trust built up from this day forward will protect the men and women of his department and the families of Indianapolis the next time a public safety crisis hits.
“If there’s anything that probably in any city that keeps a chief awake is, if something really bad happens, something questionable, I would hope that they would come to talk to me first, so I have to build that relationship, rather than acting out of emotion or not giving me that opportunity to talk about circumstances.
“I need those things and hope it builds a relationship and says, ‘Hey, Bryan Roach is interested, the police department is interested, and maybe we can turn things around,’” said Roach.