Friday, August 20, 2010

Is It Time?

Is it time for an external review of the culture within IMPD? I throw this out there, because I certain believe it is time to give voice to the idea.

When Frank Straub was name Director of Public Safety, I was cautiously optimistic for two reasons. First, it appeared he wanted IMPD to be a data driven organization, which would continue the best point of Scott Newman's term in that position. Second, Staub was an outsider. Why was that important? Because I figured an outsider was the best person to spot misdeeds within IMPD.

Over at Advance Indiana, Gary Welsh has brought forward some disturbing characterizations of how Straub operates as Director of Public Safety (see "Straub Draws Ire of IMPD", and "The Straub Meltdown Continues"). I find my reaction to Welsh's posts a bit complicated by my hope that Straub could or would continue Newman's attempts to clean up the department. While the accusations aired on AI clearly paint a picture of more than poor management skills, I also have to wonder why they are coming to light. Is it because Straub's skills are undermining important department esprit de corps, or because Straub is trying to clean up the department, or both? Or, something else altogether? I don't know and I am leaving those questions up in the air.

If you remember back a few years, after Scott Newman became Director of Public Safety, there was a string of incidents and revelations involving IMPD officers. That string of incidents and revelations continue under Straub.

Narcotics officers were stealing drugs and money from criminals. These officers were tried and convicted. "A few bad apples", we were told. Quite possibly true.

Then, there was what seemed like an entire squadron of off-duty officers who were working for a scrap metal operation, Omnisource, including the top cop responsible for inspections who cited a competitor for what may have been illegal activity. The internal investigation ended, but rumors persist of an FBI investigation still ongoing. "Nothing to see here, move along", was sort of the message.

The Lincoln Plowman affair, that either has to do with his role as Councillor or IMPD officer, but which led to his resignation from IMPD just as he was about to be fired. For what, we do not yet know.

The investigation of Marion County Prosecutor Carl Brizzi, which may not exactly involve IMPD, but does involve the carriage of justice in our County. Like the Plowman affair, still being investigated ever so slowly.

There is the use of excessive force that left Brandon Johnson's face as clear testimony. One officer fired over that.

Now we have IMPD Officer David Bisard's curious treatment at the scene of an accident that he caused and which left one motorcyclist dead and two others in serious condition. The officers on the scene insist that Bisard did not appear to be drunk, no field sobriety test was done, no blood test was done for two hours, and when it was done, the person drawing the blood was not trained properly for performing that role in a criminal investigation. This blunder, or bungling, or turning a blind eye, or deliberate coverup, has even embarrassed Carl Brizzi to the point he does want it to tarnish his image. Director Straub is calling in the FBI, which is a positive move, but which clearly recognizes that the public will not trust the outcome of any internal investigation.

Maybe it is time for an outside review of the culture within IMPD. Not by a committee of local radio talk show hosts, either. But by an outside group who understand how police departments should operate, how they do operate, and how they hide things when they operate beyond the best interests of the public. They should understand the positive role of the 'thin blue line' to camaraderie, but know the signs for when it has morphed into the thick blue wall that only serves to hide an 'anything goes' attitude. They should know how to entice officers to come forward with information about other officers; just like IMPD is trying entice residents to come forward.

I'm not saying they will find anything. Maybe all the bad apples are gone. Maybe that's all it ever has been. But, there are just too many incidents and too long a string of disclosures to feel comfortable with that conclusion just looking in at IMPD from the outside.

Is it time for an outside investigation of IMPD's culture? Maybe. But, it is certainly time to entertain the idea.


Advance Indiana said...

Pat, My view is that the Public Safety Director's position is a total waste of taxpayer dollars. The chief should report directly to the mayor and be accountable to him. That's what Ballard the Marine officer said he wanted, but he seems to be trying to put as much distance between himself and the police department as possible. Instead, we have someone with a lot of college degrees who has held multiple jobs, none of them for a very long period I might add, who is interfering with the normal chain of command within IMPD. I don't agree that Newman made a real effort to clean up the police department. His reaction to the OmniSource scandal was pathetic. He quickly cleared the police of any criminal wrongdoing without bothering to conduct a thorough investigation because of his close relationship to some of the officers involved (and probably because his former law firm represented OmniSource) and only implemented window dressing changes in the department's moonlighting policy. There is also more to his departure than met the public's eye from what I'm told by sources. The media in this town wasn't interested in digging for the real truth behind his sudden departure. It would have required requesting public records and conducting a few interviews. If Newman had used the position to clean up the department, we wouldn't be facing this mess now I suspect. I don't blame Straub for the Bisard fiasco. Chief Ciesielski should have been on the scene himself and made sure proper procedures were followed given the gravity of the situation. Clearly, nobody grasped the seriousness of the situation at hand.

Anonymous said...

You know, we've been building incompetence into our police agencies for years now, lowering the standards to please everybody. You mix in some politics/corruption and then everyone wonders why the police "suddenly" are acting incompetently. Police work ALWAYS involves the potential to go bad. That's why it must be maintained free of politics and staffed with dedicated professionals.

This newest tragedy and miscarriage of justice has many parents. The top one is the mayor for his selection and backing of bungling Frank Straub as DPS director. Straub's claim to fame is his affiliation with NYPD, where he ostensibly learned all the wrong lessons. Doctor Straub apparently adheres to the older, now-abandoned NYPD dictum that all police officers are stupid, cannot be trusted, and need to be micro-managed at every step by supervisors. Under this system, patrolmen are to not make a move until a supervisor arrives on scene to "manage" their actions. Supervisors of that stripe rarely consult with their subordinates, they focus their attention on finding reasons to suspend them for any possible infraction. So we now have a system that's only as good as the dumbest sergeant.

Another problem with Doctor Straub is that he's one of those who "manages" instead of "leading", and compounds that weakness by being careful to only appoint people who are dumber than him, who in turn appoint people who are dumber than them, who eventually in turn are the supervisors of the "stupid" patrol officers that Straub believes must be micro-managed. This is EXACTLY the basis for the horror of the Eric Wells fatality. Now there will be a witch hunt by inept, upper level "mis-managers" to lay the blame down the line onto inept, lower level "mis-managers". Apparently Doctor Straub failed to get the memo, because even NYPD abandoned this system of self-perpetuating ineptitude a number of years ago. After doing so, NYC's crime rates have plummeted to a level actually lower than Indianapolis. This has been achieved by training and supporting patrol officers and their immediate supervisors, instead of ham-stringing them and insulting their professionalism with poorly concieved petty rules and punishments. Dr. Straub must have missed that train when it left the station also.

I retired from the Indiana State Police a few years ago, and I'm an FBI National Academy grad. I watched the steady erosion of our local police agencies by self-serving local politicians, culminating when Sheriff Anderson sold every Marion County resident down the river by agreeing to merge the two major departments. Anderson's own brand of incompetent "managing" was made worse when the CC Council voted to put the merged departments under the Mayor and his appointees. The Mayor, for all his supposed expertise, doesn't seem to understand that you don't "hire" good help, you "accumulate" it within your organization. The final flush of the toilet came when Scott Newman left as city DPS director, and the blindly inept "Doctor" Straub was put in charge with his personal insecurities and unbelievably outdated "management" style.

My sympathy goes to the families of Mr. Wells and the others who were so terribly injured. It will be interesting to watch the circus as Straub now tries to "professionalize" the police by appointing more bunglers who are dumber than him to replace the ones he and his bungling police chief had previously chosen to "manage" things. Any professionalizing needs to start at the top first. The officers now serving with the IMPD are overwhelmingly honest and caring and want to do their best. But they have to be "led", not "managed".

Anonymous said...

Advance Indiana wrote:

"Chief Ciesielski should have been on the scene himself and made sure proper procedures were followed given the gravity of the situation. Clearly, nobody grasped the seriousness of the situation at hand."

There should be no reason for the chief of a large agency like IMPD to have to go to the scene of a fatality accident to take charge. If he does, then he's not nearly the police administrator that his superiors must have thought he was when they appointed him. Besides, Frank Straub is in charge of meddling in police investigations, it would seem. Not much room left for the chief to get involved. IMPD is a machine that investigates fatalities on a daily basis, and if the on-scene supervisors weren't up to the task, the chief should have replaced them before this happened.

Kudos to the retired trooper for the previous post. As was noted, the chief should be appointing the best and brightest to supervise our police officers. Not simply the dumbest ones who can be counted on to not rock the boat and be a political threat to the chief and his (or rather, Dr. Straub's) policies.

I'm sure everyone fully grasped the seriousness of the situation, Gary, they just had no clue on how to act. The chief was a pretty boy public affairs officer before getting his current job. It is only natural that he would appoint people that he's comfortable with, i.e., also clueless about actual police methods, to head the organization's various divisions and units. Only clueless supervisors can be counted on to ignore what their subordinates on the scene might know, and proceed with an investigation they have little experience in, guided by management policies set in place by equally clueless HQ administrators, who answer to a meddling public safety director who travels around with an entourage of bodyguards that would rival a banana republic dictator.

The whole thing is a sick joke, except the families of the motorcyclists who were killed and injured aren't laughing. Nor are the rest of us.

Anonymous said...

I believe that something might be overlooked in all of this. When was the last time the policy on these crashes was re-written? Perhaps this is a hold over from the early days of the IPD-MCSD merger, when Anderson and his bunch of marry loosers were in control...

Anonymous said...

You can spend all the time necessary to rewrite procedure to your hearts desire....But if the officers and superiors at the scene have no desire to follow established procedures,then all of the laws and procedures written are moot.