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When he reported for duty last November, rookie public safety director Troy Riggs walked directly into the line of fire. His predecessor, Frank Straub, had resigned after a bitter fight with the police union. Former IMPD chief Paul Ciesielski had busted himself down to captain after his department mishandled evidence in the alleged drunk-driving crash of officer David Bisard. The mayor and the City-County Council were duking it out over police and firefighter pay, and there was the matter of figuring out just how many of Indianapolis’s 1,600 police officers were actually patrolling the streets; no one could give Riggs an exact number. Then, on November 10, the city blew up—or at least the neighborhood of Richmond Hill did, killing two residents, damaging 90 homes, and setting off a large-scale investigation.
A former cop and chief of staff for the Louisville Metro Police, and most recently the police chief and assistant city manager in Corpus Christi, Texas, Riggs, 46, wants to implement a long wish list for his new department—if he ever gets a break from putting out fires.
IM: Last year, the Fraternal Order of Police complained that Indianapolis officers worked in a “challenging and hostile environment,” and, at the time you arrived, the city had seen a 6 percent increase in violent crime over the previous year. Why take this job?
RIGGS: I was very happy [in Corpus Christi]—actually turned down the opportunity for two big jobs in Louisville, my hometown. Turned down some other opportunities.
But this is Indianapolis. I think when you live in a city, you don’t realize how good you have it until you’ve lived elsewhere. My wife and I go back to when we were visiting [years ago], even when Union Station was the place to go. We would say, “Wouldn’t it be a great city to live in someday?” Had no idea we would have that opportunity. I did what I always do: I prayed about it. Went and talked to my wife. She’d been involved in all the decisions to say “no” to other opportunities, but for Indianapolis, she said yes.
When I look on the professional side, I believe we have all the tools in place here. We don’t want to just look for best practices around the nation and emulate those. We want to be the place where people come for best practices. I think we have the leadership and talent to do that. We have a very knowledgeable, a very intelligent, and a very dedicated workforce. What we need is a little bit more coordination, a little bit more planning, and we’re going to be fine. That’s one of the things that really drove me here. I think that we can do things here that make the rest of the nation say, “That’s the way you need to do public safety.”
IM: You faced the Richmond Hill explosion within days of grabbing the reins. Rate your department’s response.
RIGGS: I’m very proud of the response. I’m very proud of our employees that just showed up, off duty, because they heard an explosion. I’m very proud of the community for how they responded to it. I’m also proud of our efforts after the initial response. We took an unprecedented step that many cities have not been willing to do, or able to do, when they’ve had a disaster—that is, we made it an important priority to help citizens rebuild their lives. We had a crime scene, but we had officers there to escort people to their homes, to escort them to their insurance companies so they could begin that process sooner rather than later. We shored up homes that were unsafe so that our people could go in and help retrieve some precious items—for instance, a Purple Heart that a gentleman had that I think his father had given him, and some of the pets. Those are irreplaceable items. To some people that may not be a big issue, but it should be.
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