'We need to see it': IMPD releases full disciplinary proposal, extends public input period

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Just two people stood up to speak during a public hearing Tuesday night on a proposal that would change how the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department disciplines its officers.

Outside of news media, police and one city council member who spoke on behalf of his constituents, only one community member attended the hearing.

“I feel like I’m fairly involved and informed as a resident," Samantha Douglas told the Civilian Police Merit Board, noting she had only learned of the hearing the night before on the news. "I can't imagine how many other residents — who aren’t as involved — had no idea about this happening.”

Minutes before, IMPD Deputy Chief Kendale Adams presented the draft proposal to the little-known board — a committee of seven civilian members tasked with duties related to police discipline, including deciding whether to fire an officer.

“This room is not reflective of our community and really can't give you quality feedback,” added Douglas, vice president of the Far East Side Community Council.

In fact, IMPD officials at the time only provided the public with a partial, four-page draft of the proposal, leaving out pages that would further explain the new system.

Police told IndyStar they did not want to release the proposal in its entirety due to concern that "sending out the full draft might create unnecessary confusion since it is still being updated." Members of the board said they thought people would rather see a summary of the policy than a "great big, thick document." They gave the public until Monday, Dec. 6, to comment.

But on Thursday, after multiple request from IndyStar and concerns from community members over not having all the information, IMPD released the full 40-page disciplinary policy draft. The complete document offers more clarity into the policy, including definitions of terms, goals of the update and explanations of procedures.

The department also extended the public comment period to Jan. 3.

The meeting offered a glimpse into the broader issue of trust and communication between the community and police. The move to extend public comment and release the full document alleviated concerns over practices, even if unintended, that Douglas said could "perpetuate the idea of not being able to fully trust the process."

"Why are we responding to something when you don’t know what you’re responding to?" Pastor David Greene of Purpose Of Life Ministries, told IndyStar before IMPD released the complete handbook Thursday. "We need to see it, be able to have time to read it (and) process it to raise any intelligent questions.”

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The process for disciplining a police officer can be confusing to the average person. The police chief and the merit board do not decide whether an officer should face criminal charges. Rather, they are tasked with how to handle employment manners. They would help determine, for example, if an officer broke the rule and, if so, what punishment the officer would face.

That process mainly comes into public focus after any controversial use of force by a police officer in Indianapolis. More often, though, the merit board deals with police hiring and promotions.

The new disciplinary proposal in November had been presented publicly in front of two other civilian-majority boards before Tuesday's hearing — the Citizens Police Complaint Board and the IMPD General Orders Board. But IMPD officials on Thursday said those presentations were so the department could get input on the proposal "before projecting it to the public."

“The whole point of our having the (Tuesday) meeting in the first place was to invite input," said Frank Sullivan Jr., the merit board's president. "And to the extent that people didn’t think they had enough notice or information… we’ve put everything off for at least a month so as to get it.”

The proposal

The proposed disciplinary system functions similarly to the current one in that it assigns discipline based on categories of misconduct that correspond with certain levels of punishment.

But, unlike the current policy, the proposed system takes into account how an officer's conduct impacts the community and the image of the police department, which can increase or decrease the severity of a punishment.

There are six categories of misconduct of increasing severity, ranging in label from A to F, according to a draft of the policy. Violations that fall into category A, for example, are those that have "a minimal negative impact on the operations or professional image of the department," like failing to report for duty on time.

That violation, the draft indicates, could result in an officer receiving anything from a verbal warning to a written reprimand, depending on different factors of the violation.

Category F violations, the most severe, include misconduct like committing felonies or actions that "egregiously violates the public trust," according to the draft. The chief would decide punishment in those cases, which could include termination.

Repeated offenses within a certain timeframe would increase a level of punishment.

Sullivan, a former Indiana Supreme Court justice, called the proposal a "substantial improvement" over the current system not only because it takes into account a violation's impact on the community, but it also considers an officer's intent when committing that violation.

He gave a hypothetical example of an officer whose body camera malfunctions and doesn't record an incident, comparing it to an officer who intentionally turns his camera off.

"Under the old system, it looked at only: did you have your camera on or not?" Sullivan said. "Under the new system, it will look at whether you had your camera on or not intentionally or unintentionally, and what the effect on the community was.”

Adams, the deputy chief, said this system would give the department more flexibility in disciplining its officers. The current system, he said Tuesday, is too rigid.

“This lack of flexibility often allows officers to progress to higher levels of discipline for lower-level offenses,” he said at the public hearing.

The proposed system, Adams noted, also includes measure like an "Early Intervention System" that allows supervisors to monitor officers for minor instances of misconduct or actions that might be indicative of future trouble.

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The process moving forward

In addition to the extended deadline for public comment, the merit board has its monthly meeting scheduled for Tuesday, Dec. 7, in the City-County Building downtown.

The committee will again discuss the proposal before taking more public comment.

"I think there’s been a lot of good faith on the part of IMPD here to get out these proposed changes," Sullivan said. "I'm glad to have any, and I know my six fellow board members are glad to have any, input that anybody wants to provide."

"The more information people have," he added, "the better."

Douglas, the community member who spoke at Tuesday's meeting, said she is "relieved" to have more time to review the complete disciplinary proposal. She said she will share it with members of her community, as well.

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The Far East Side Community Council, she noted, works to "bridge this gap between the community and information that they need," which she says does not just fall on one department.

Douglas has a good relationship with IMPD, she said. In fact, the department reached out to her Friday to include her and her organization in future meetings.

"I’m encouraged that even one voice in one meeting could bring some change," Douglas said. "I hope that can serve as a reminder to the community that every voice is valuable."

Those who wish to comment on the draft policy can submit feedback to IMPD by email to IMPD_Planning@indy.gov.

IndyStar reporter Sarah Nelson contributed.

Contact Lawrence Andrea at 317-775-4313 or landrea@indystar.com. Follow him on Twitter @lawrencegandrea.

This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: Indianapolis police want public input on how it disciplines officers

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