Ask Me Anything: Randal Taylor IMPD Chief

IMPD Chief Randal Taylor stands in uniform
IMPD Chief Randal Taylor

Tony Valainis

You had only been chief for a few months when the Black Lives Matter protests began this spring. How are you addressing the issue with your officers?
It starts with making sure officers understand why people feel the way they do. In my 33 years of law enforcement, we haven’t always done everything right, and we shouldn’t pretend that’s the case. And we have to make sure those conversations aren’t one-and-dones. We need to continually determine what changes the community wants to see and the police department is willing to abide by.

How will IMPD’s culture change in response to concerns voiced during the protests?
We won’t entertain the “dissolve the police department” notion [a decision that’s typically made by the city-county council], but I’ve always been willing to listen to most ideas from anyone in the community. Both sides will need to give and take to come up with solutions. I was very pleased with the peaceful protests we saw in early June. That always makes it easier to come to the table.

Your job seems extremely stressful right now. How did you first get interested in law enforcement, and are there days when you regret it?
When I was 18, I was fortunate—or unfortunate—enough to get stopped for running a red light by a Black officer named Richard Adkins in Champaign, Illinois, where I grew up. I ran into him again a few months later when I was working a late-night shift at White Hen Pantry. When he brought up a career in law enforcement for me, I thought he was joking. I was like, “You know you’re talking to the guy you just wrote a ticket to, right?” But I eventually realized he was right—we need more minorities in law enforcement.

What assignments from your career stand out?
My last assignment in Champaign was with D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education), which helped me realize how much I cared about young people. And then I worked on sex crimes investigations in the sheriff’s department in Indy for a few years, which was a good fit because it allowed me to talk to people in crisis, which I’ve always been good at. Later, I joined IMPD’s Community Affairs unit for three years, where I met regularly with the families of murder victims. That kept me dialed into the violence going on in the minority community here. 

In what ways does being Black make your job easier, and how does it make it more difficult?       
A lot of the community knows that I’m approachable and will listen to their concerns, even though we can’t always change things. But I didn’t grow up in Indianapolis, so people who don’t know me judge me as just a cop without knowing what I stand for.

What’s the greatest challenge IMPD currently faces?
My biggest concern is the relationship between minorities and law enforcement.  Recent events have magnified the need for real conversations and actions to occur. The IMPD should always be willing to listen to our community, and we need to reassure people that our officers are there for their safety and protection. It’s our duty to ensure that everyone feels comfortable interacting with their police force.

How do you convince someone who has just had a family member killed to listen to what you have to say?
Unfortunately, I’m not always successful. My father-in-law was murdered, so I know what they’re going through, at least to some extent. But there are some people who I’m never going to be able to convince that we did things right. In cases where the investigation is still ongoing, all that I can promise them is that if we’ve done something wrong, we’ll deal with it. A lot of it is just being willing to listen.

What do you wish people knew about police work?
A lot of people think I can just fire officers when something goes wrong, but I can’t suspend someone for more than 10 days without a vote by the merit board. And in investigations, a lot of people think I should hand down a sentence based on what they perceive happened, but they don’t have all the information. That’s why I ask for patience. I know nobody likes that, but I owe it to everyone to have a thorough investigation completed before I start making decisions.

What are your biggest unanswered questions about the fatal police shootings of Dreasjon Reed on may 6 and McHale Rose on May 7?
Those investigations are ongoing, so I can’t comment. Whatever information comes out will have to be discussed with the special prosecutor before I can share it with the public.

What was your reaction to Mayor Hogsett asking the FBI to conduct an independent investigation of the shootings?

I don’t believe we have anything to hide. If we’ve done something wrong, then we’ll deal with it. But sometimes officers do it right and things still turn out bad.

IMPD is on track to begin outfitting officers with body cameras by the time this publishes. How do you balance people’s right to privacy with accountability?
If we come to your house, we’re going to let you know that camera is on. But you can certainly say you don’t want that camera on. The policy will be spelled out on our website. And I want to make sure that the community is fully aware of what rights they have to view those recordings as well.

What will trigger the cameras to activate?
We’re evaluating several options. One possibility is that if an officer unsnaps their weapon, the camera will automatically come on. There are also options for it to come on if lights and sirens are activated, if an officer gets out of their car, or if they’re horizontal for a certain period of time, like if they’re down on the ground.

You have two sons in their 20s and a 19-year-old daughter. What advice have you given your kids about interacting with law enforcement?
You can question things, but be respectful about it and don’t get into arguments. Be responsible for your actions. If you’ve done something, pull over. Don’t get yourself into a position where an officer has to do something drastic.

What do you want the Black community in Indianapolis to know right now?
I know the Black community has suffered at the hands of very poor decisions by certain officers. I would ask them to just think about their interactions before things go bad and to understand that I am for them and I’d love to talk. If there are things that need to change, then let’s change them. But if there are things that we all need to do as people to make things better, we need to be willing to do that as well.