Opinion and Taking Issue

KENNEDY: Public safety is still Job One

July 27, 2013

KennedyThe murder rate in New York City is 3.4 per 100,000. The murder rate in Indianapolis is 17.5 per 100,000.

Think about that for a minute.

The city is shifting IMPD assignments in a desperate effort to put more cops on the street without actually hiring any, but given current staffing levels, that’s like rearranging the chairs on the deck of the Titanic.

The mayor’s own task force reports that IMPD is short 685 uniformed officers. Redeploying might help at the margins, but as the task force concedes, there is no alternative to hiring more police.

Nevertheless, Ballard vetoed a bipartisan council measure to increase the upcoming recruit class. He says we can’t afford it.

Now, I’m not unsympathetic to the fiscal problems created by the tax caps bequeathed to us by former Gov. Daniels. Constitutionalizing those tax caps was brilliant politics and absolutely terrible policy.

As knowledgeable observers warned at the time, the caps have starved units of local government of badly needed resources, requiring not only creative fiscal management (we are running out of public assets to sell off), but also those “hard decisions” that politicians talk about endlessly but rarely if ever actually make.

Ballard is correct in noting that the council’s proposal identified funding for the added recruits only for the first year; the city would have to find money to pay for the additional officers going forward.

Of course, if we are ever going to fully staff IMPD, we will have to come up with the money. That means making some hard trade-offs—at a minimum, providing fewer subsidies to local sports franchises and fewer cushy deals for developer friends of the mayor.

It might also require Ballard to visit the Legislature—something he’s been loath to do—and among many other things petition our state-level rulers to get rid of the 40-plus taxing district funds, expenditures from which are restricted in ways that prevent Indianapolis from setting its own priorities.

The mayor needs to admit that we have a real public safety crisis—a crisis that could undo the years of progress we have enjoyed. Simply adding police will not solve that problem. But neither can it be solved without them.

Unless citizens feel safe, the city can’t accomplish any of its other goals. We can’t revitalize neighborhoods. Economic development efforts will go nowhere. The bike lanes, the Monon Trail and the justifiably lauded Cultural Trail will empty. Downtown businesses will suffer. There will be a downward spiral that will make all other efforts immeasurably more difficult.

Despite community-wide recognition of the urgency of the situation, Ballard has remained stubbornly disengaged.

He’s been far more passionate about cricket.

If there is one thing on which virtually all Americans agree, it is that providing public safety is a government obligation. (That might be the only thing Americans all agree on.) Policing might not be as exciting as cricket (actually, it is—I’ve seen cricket matches), but providing adequate police protection, along with ensuring that we can flush, is an absolutely basic government function.

However, instead of focusing on public safety—which he himself has called Job One—instead of working with the council and the Legislature to address it, we have a mayor who is spending what little political capital he still has on a cricket field.

It might not be Nero fiddling while Rome burned, but it’s close.•

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Kennedy is a professor of law and public policy at the School of Public and Environmental Affairs at IUPUI. She blogs regularly at www.sheilakennedy.net. She can be reached at skennedy@ibj.com. Send comments on this column to ibjedit@ibj.com.

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