Hot-Button Issues: Cop Out

How many police officers does Indy need? (And are we scared enough to pull out our wallets and pay them?)

Editor’s Note: From gay marriage to Glenda Ritz, Obamacare to Sunday booze, we’re presenting 10 topics that Hoosiers will be fired up about this year—and what you need to know before jumping into heated cocktail-party discussions. See the full list here.

The Skinny

Last year we learned that violent crime in Indianapolis rose by 8 percent in 2012, according to FBI data. While 2013’s figures won’t be released until later this year, we fear the worst: An Indianapolis Star tally showed that the homicide count in Marion County—which included one IMPD officer—had already exceeded 2012’s by October (the year-end number of 125 was the highest total since 2006). In the fall, a rash of home invasions put several northside neighborhoods on high alert. “Even more important than looking at crime statistics, the true measure is, do people feel more safe or less safe?” says Fraternal Order of Police vice president Rick Snyder. The short answer: Less.

Cop OutA Department of Public Safety study from early 2013 reported that
IMPD was short 685(!) officers, and the FOP has suggested adding 100 cops per year over the next five years. Bickering over such big-ticket requests nearly hijacked the City-County Council’s efforts to pass a budget last fall. Unsightly negotiations over funding (“like watching sausage being made,” one councilman told IM)—which involved raiding the city’s “rainy day” reserve—eventually provided for the addition of 80 officers, up from the mayor’s initial proposal of 50. Seems like a good start—until you consider that it will be the first new class of recruits since 2010, and that nearly 50 officers leave the department every year. The reinforcements, set to enter the academy this April, won’t even be on patrol unsupervised until April 2015 at the earliest.

Democrat John Barth, the Council’s vice president, wants to investigate the issue. He proposed a bipartisan study to help determine the number of officers Indy really requires, so the Council can work on a long-term plan. “We need to take politics out of policing,” he says. Nice thought, and good luck.

The Players

Mayor Greg Ballard, for whom law-and-order is likely to factor big when campaign time rolls around next year, and his chief adversary on the Council, Democratic president Maggie Lewis … Barth, who appears to be positioning himself as a “sensible” voice amid the cacophony (and whose at-large seat disappears after 2015) … new(ish) Public Safety Director Troy Riggs, charged with overhauling IMPD … Snyder, who’s voicing the cops’ position (help!).

   Troy Riggs         John Barth         Maggie Lewis

Players: (l-r) Riggs, Barth, Lewis

Curry Spices Things Up

Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry, a Democrat facing reelection in November, is tiptoeing into the fray. “At the scene of a recent homicide, our deputy prosecutor was required to supervise the processing of the crime scene because homicide detectives were spread so thin that no one was available to respond immediately to that scene,” he wrote in a scolding letter to Ballard last August.

When It Will Go Down

Barth’s study proposal won Council approval at the end of last year, and the commission formed to address the issue meets again on February 26. Last year, the city used one-time sources for stopgap police funding—meaning that when budget time rolls around again this coming fall, finding money will be even more difficult.

   Terry Curry         Greg Ballard     

Players: (l-r) Curry, Ballard

The Upper Hand

Criminals. For the mayor and the Council, hiring more cops will likely mean raising taxes (or cutting somewhere else, or both). And when that happens, the only place more dangerous than the streets of Indianapolis will be City Hall.

Mall Insecurity

Throwing more fuel on the police-funding fire, the Council launched an inquiry last year into the Department of Public Safety’s lease on a rundown operations center at the former Eastgate Mall. Riggs ordered that the facility be vacated in September due to code violations, and the building’s owner, Alex Carroll, said in a WTHR interview that he received a secret up-front payment from the city and that the lease “doesn’t seem like a very prudent way to spend taxpayer money.” Results of the Council’s investigation are expected early this spring.

Follow Along

@MayorBallard / @VoteBarth / @RickFOP86 / @MaggieALewis / @IMPD_News / @MCProsecutors

A version of this article appeared in the January 2014 issue. Reporting by Rebecca Berfanger.