Legislation proposed to help IMPD pay for, patrol downtown

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INDIANAPOLIS — The spring riots of 2020 that left Monument Circle defaced with graffiti, scarred the doors of the Indiana Statehouse and saw the state’s capitol city choked with tear gas and ringing with gunfire so incensed Republicans in control of the state legislature that one of them proposed establishing a board to oversee the administration of IMPD.

Senator Jack Sandlin’s 2021 takeover bill failed, but he’s back this session with a plan to lend IMPD a hand in patrolling the heart of the city that is the engine of Indiana’s economy. SB 7 would codify current informal working agreements between IMPD and other agencies, including Indiana State Police and IUPUI Police, that occasionally find those officers coming off state property to lend a hand during a crisis or in the course of typical patrols such as on weekend nights in the city’s South Meridian Street bar district.

“Throughout the course of the summer, the Indiana State Police partnered side-by-side with IMPD in the downtown area. They brought state troopers in and did walking beats and worked in violent crime areas,” said Sandlin, a Republican representing Indianapolis’ southside. “I counted about 15 or 16 different agencies that are gonna come together to look at working interoperability on crime prevention and crime reduction in downtown Indianapolis and think innovatively and really thinking outside the box.”

IU Police Superintendent Ben Hunter told the Senate Corrections and Criminal Law Committee that his officers already support IMPD on any incidents that happen close to its campus on the westside of downtown. “Just in the last year-and-a-half, we’ve assisted with them on over 330 runs,” he told the senators.

After the hearing, IMPD Assistant Chief Chris Bailey told FOX59 News that the proposal would confirm informal agreements that already exist and add another layer of planning and cooperation with other agencies willing to pitch in during regular patrols or during times of crisis downtown.

“We work with these agencies routinely, but we don’t have anything in writing, so, maybe this is an opportunity to codify that and make sure that we know that if one of us needs the other that we’ll be there for each other,” he said. “No one cares when you’re in trouble what the patch is. If it says, ‘police,’ the people in this community, people in our county, expect someone to help them when they need it.”

It’s that potential confusion that concerned Bernice Corley, Executive Director of the Indiana Public Defender Council, who cautioned that lesser trained officers from hospital police departments could find themselves over their heads or panicking an uninformed community.

“Citizens or people who are guests might not expect to be stopped by somebody in a hospital cop uniform or cop car and may not understand that it’s a proper use of authority,” she told the committee. “The solutions are not more detentions or more policing.” A second piece of proposed legislation, SB 10, would provide state grants to pay for IMPD overtime costs incurred while responding to some of the most violent parts of Indianapolis.

“It’s an opportunity for the state to reach out a hand out and saying, ‘We want to help you in those high crime areas, those areas where you have identified a higher rate of violent crime than other parts or your county,’ and they’re gonna provide resources for not only overtime but, as the way I read the bill, it could be used for other things,” said Bailey, referring to other forms of technical assistance. “Any of those resources we get from the state will help us make the Circle City safer, we’re willing to take.”

Last year IMPD paid officers $13.3 million in overtime to handle assignments left uncovered due to manpower shortages. IMPD finished the year with 1650 officers, though its budget called for one hundred more and Mayor Joe Hogsett has allocated money in 2022 to pay for 1873 officers.

The department’s next recruit class in February will have 39 officers on the first day. Last year, 130 new officers were brought on duty to replace 139 veterans who retired or otherwise left the department. Monday night, IMPD was assisted in patrolling downtown to protect tens of thousands of visitors attending the College Football Playoff Championship at Lucas Oil Stadium.

“Everybody that put these bills forward represents people in Marion County and the entire state has a vested interest in Indianapolis being very successful,” said Bailey. “As goes Indianapolis, so goes the rest of the state, so we’re all in this together.”

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