IMPD adopts Use of Force Board that leaves final say to chief of police

Crime in Indianapolis
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INDIANAPOLIS — After a summer of give-and-take negotiations with both the mayor’s office and the City-County Council, IMPD has published a new General Order establishing a Use of Force Board to review every time an officer pulls a firearm, fires a taser, applies a baton strike or uses his or her hands to enforce the law in Indianapolis.

General Order 1.31 is the final piece of the puzzle to update the police department’s policies on Use of Force and how to determine whether the officer was right or wrong.

“It has the ability to review all uses of force, whereas in our previous Firearms Review Board, that board typically only reviewed officers that discharged their firearms at a person,” said IMPD Deputy Chief Kendale Adams. “It gives a broader perspective that these civilians and police officers will be reviewing. It gives them the ability to do that.”

The board will be made up of four officers named by the Chief of Police and the rank-and-file to be joined by five community members.

“Two will come from the mayor’s office, and three will come from the City-County Council, all recommendations to the chief of the police, who will then appoint them,” said Adams. “We are formulating how those recommendations will make it to the chief, what the application process will look like, that is something that the City-County Council and the mayor’s office are working on currently.”

According to the language of the Order, persons with felony criminal records are not eligible to serve on the Use of Force Board, though former police officers and relatives of law enforcement officers are permitted, a deviation from a recently passed General Orders Board to oversee essentially all IMPD policies, which banned family and ex-officers from serving.

“I believe it requires successful completion of the Citizens Police Academy, some ride-alongs, obviously some training in the Use of Force policy,” said Adams. “To be honest with you, this is almost like a part-time job. Some of these hearings can go all day. The review of material can literally be hundreds of pages. This is something that those who are appointed to this board have to take seriously and have to evaluate whether they have time in their regular job and just life in general to objectively review this information and provide an objective determination based on the policies about these uses of force.”

While the board can make findings as to whether an officer violated policy by resorting to Use of Force, that determination is not necessarily binding on the chief.

“They will be able to review the entirety of the incident and provide recommendations to the Chief of Police about whether there were enough supervisors, training, whatever it is that they deem to provide to the chief, they can provide that in writing to the Chief of Police with recommendations on what they need believe to be addressed,” said Adams. “They have no disciplinary purview. It is purely an advisement to the Chief of Police, who would take that information and make his or her determination. Now, having said that, the chief is gonna have to answer to the community and elected officials if he determines to go against the board.

“If he goes against the board, he’s gonna have to explain to the folks why he did that.”

Currently, when an officer uses his or her firearm, that incident is documented in a Blue Team Report, which is reviewed by supervisors with a determination whether or not the use was in compliance with IMPD policies, and that report is forwarded to the Firearms Review Board.

Adams said the new board will review more types of incidents and keep better data than IMPD has done in the past.

“Because we are documenting it better, we will see more Blue Teams and more uses of force, but that’s not necessarily indicative of bad practices. It’s just something that we have not captured in the past,” he said. “Hopefully by codifying this we can say, ‘Yes, we did pull our firearms 20 times for example in 2021, but of those 20 times that we pulled our firearms, we did not fire, so therefore we were preserving life as we intend to do as a law enforcement officer.’”

The adoption of the Use of Force Board is indicative of another step by IMPD to respond to community demands for police accountability in the wake of springtime protests over social and criminal justice reforms.

Earlier this month, the City-County Council imposed on IMPD a civilian-majority General Orders Board to oversee virtually all police department policies and rules.

IMPD has also entered into an agreement with Black Lives Matter and Indy Ten, two groups of plaintiffs in federal court who brought suit regarding the department’s response to protesters at the end of May. That agreement, according to sources, concludes the lawsuit with a commitment by Metro Police that it would not use tear gas to break up peaceful demonstrations or move law abiding crowds.

IMPD’s position is its current policy directs that tear gas should only be applied in response to vandalism or violence.

Meanwhile, the department and the community are anxiously awaiting a Special Grand Jury’s findings into the fatal officer-involved shooting of Dreasjon Reed on May 6 after an officer said the 22-year-old man shot at him during a foot chase on the city’s northside.

While there will be more citizen involvement in IMPD beginning in 2021, the appointment of community members to the Use of Force Board, and consideration of that board’s findings, will still remain in the hands of the IMPD Chief.

Last June, Chief Randal Taylor suggested that the new board would have four to three officer-dominated majority and he would name citizen members.

“The chief ultimately has the final say, so even though the mayor and the City-County Council recommend, he could conceivably go back to the City-County Council and say, ‘Hey, like to talk about this particular individual,’ and they go back and forth,” explained Adams. “Ultimately, the chief appoints individuals to the board, and as far as the number, there’s been much discussion on majority civilian, majority police officer, I think the chief kind of finally determined that majority civilian wasn’t a bad thing.”

Click here to read IMPD’s full General Orders. The Use of Force policy begins on page 80.

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