By Amelia Pak-Harvey | Indianapolis Star
Oct. 13, 2020
The Indianapolis City-County Council voted Monday night to reform the policy-making body for the city’s police department, a proposal that earlier in the evening drew crowds of opponents and supporters outside the City-County Building.
Some council members on the majority-Democratic council insisted that the proposal, which adds civilian input to police oversight, was not meant to create an “us versus them” mentality, pitting civilians against police officers.
But a strong divide was certainly evident outside council chambers, where a group of people wearing black “Defund IMPD” shirts stood to one side while a group of people dressed in blue shirts reading “We support our chief” stood on the other.
The change replaces the existing General Orders Committee, which consists of two members appointed by the chief and one member by the police officers union, with a new General Orders Board.
The board is tasked with passing the department directives for a variety of procedures, including investigations, searches, seizures and arrests.
The new seven-member board is made up of four civilians — two appointed by the mayor and two by the president of the City-County Council — with full council approval. The other three members represent law enforcement, two appointed by the police chief and one by a vote of active members of the department.
The proposal passed almost along party lines, 19-6. Council member Jared Evans was the sole Democrat voting against.
Republican council members as well as Evans voiced a concern that civilians hold a majority on the board, which allows them to pass police policy with little or no firsthand policing expertise.
“What experiences or references do we have for evaluating someone’s life with the fear of losing your own while on the job?” asked Republican council member Michael Paul-Hart. “Is it possible that citizens don’t have adequate experience to decide on general orders to handle dangerous everyday situations that officers face?”
But some Democratic council members argued that pitting civilians against officers is a false narrative.
“The civilian population on this board are not going to be individuals that have got it in for the police,” council member Zach Adamson said.
Council members approved amendments that forbid felons from serving on the committee. The chief also must provide an opinion on any proposed amendment to a general order or suggest alternative action.
Civilian members and their immediately family also may not have a lawsuit or complaint against the IMPD. Any civilian member who files a lawsuit or complaint against the department will be resigned from the board.
IMPD Police Chief Randal Taylor said in a press conference Tuesday that he believes the new board structure does strip him of some authority, which the Indianapolis Fraternal Order of Police has insisted.
“But you know I have to trust in the process, right?” he said. “And the process was followed, and even though I may not agree with it, I still have a job to do.”
FOP President Rick Snyder said after the vote early Monday morning that the change was disappointing for their membership.
“It was also made very clear that it was structured intentionally in a way that a quorum of the board could meet and pass proposals on policing policy with zero police input,” he said. “And that is alarming, and it should be alarming to all the residents in our community.”
Snyder argued that the FOP has advocated for additional civilian input but voiced concerns over a majority civilian group being able to pass policy without a police perspective.
He said police families also took issue with the fact that the proposal forbids both felons and families members of police officers from serving on the board — a restriction that he said seems to equate the two groups to each other.
“Again I think it demonstrates a hostility toward law enforcement officers and their families,” Snyder said. “I think it’s duly noted by police families, and quite frankly, it’s offensive.”
Republican council member Josh Bain said in a statement after the vote that he had concerns with the public input process.
“Proposal 237 had its first and only committee hearing on Tuesday Sept. 29th,” Bain said in the statement. “Not only did the Public Safety and Criminal Justice Committee have to schedule a special meeting because we don’t meet on this day, but it was also the same night as the first presidential debate — one cannot help but think that wasn’t an accident.”
But some Black activists and faith leaders praised the passage of the proposal.
“Across the country, we have marched together in anger and mourning over the murders of Black people,” said Anthony Harvey of New Zion Community Church and leader of the Faith in Indiana group that supported the proposal, in a statement. “We demand that justice be for all. Today, we gave people hope that healing is possible. It starts with law enforcement officers accountable to the communities in which they serve.”
The Rev. Dr. Clyde Posley, a Faith in Indiana clergy leader with Antioch Baptist Church, said the change removes “antiquated rules” left over from Indiana’s era of racial segregation.
“By pulling together, we can restore democracy to (this) law enforcement agency and make Indiana a place where all of us have our rights and our lives respected,” Posley said in a statement.
The proposal is one of several changes for the department since the nation experienced widespread unrest over racial injustice this year. IMPD also announced a change to its use-of-force policies. The department also launched a use-of-force review board for every incident involving force.
Call IndyStar reporter Amelia Pak-Harvey at 317-444-6175 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @AmeliaPakHarvey.