CHRIS KATTERJOHN Commentary: Hail to the chief, a class act

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Commentary Hail to the chief, a class act

There’s not much call in my line of work to interact with the chief of police. And, in the case of outgoing Indianapolis Police Chief Jerry Barker, it’s been my loss.

I came face to face with Jerry 18 months ago because of an extracurricular activity I was involved in. Nothing illegal, mind you.

He and I were mates among 40 people in the inaugural class of the Diversity Leadership Academy of Greater Indianapolis. We also were matched in a smaller subgroup that worked on a project together. With Jerry’s full endorsement, we called ourselves The Clowns. Through this work and a few social gatherings since then, I’ve gotten to know the chief enough to realize he is a great guy, a class act and a talented public servant.

His accomplishments in office have already been enumerated. Among other things, he brought community policing to a new level in our city; he successfully integrated 200 new officers into the Indianapolis Police Department; he supported Indianapolis Works even though his union didn’t; and he oversaw a steady decline in violent crime during his tenure.

His 36 years on the force gave him street cred in the neighborhoods and respect among the rank and file in the department. His service in Vietnam earned him a Purple Heart. Jerry Barker walked the walk.

While his five years in IPD’s top job may seem short, it was longer than the three full-time chiefs who preceded him and longer than the tenure of your average big-city chief, which I’m told is about 2-1/2 years.

It’s a job that takes a toll on a man. Jerry had grown weary.

“It’s a temporary job,” he told reporters. “A man can only take so much.” I can only imagine.

Jerry is less impressed with me as the publisher of a big-city business newspaper than as the bass player for the Meatball Band, a rock ‘n’ roll group I’m in with a bunch of other 50-somethings. That says a lot about him.

Since our DLAGI graduation, Jerry has come to two bars with other DLAGI alumni to hear us play and cut a rug. At our last gig, Jerry and I talked during a break about his war injury and the annual reunions of his Vietnam buddies.

His resignation as IPD chief prompted a flurry of emails among DLAGI alumni. The sampling below conveys a great deal about the former chief.

“The chief has been a friend and will always be a friend to the Hispanic community,” wrote Dave Hernandez, learning center coordinator at Northwest High School. “He has been at the forefront of the diversity issue in the city and made increased awareness of the needs of the Hispanic community an integral part of the police department.”

Mary Harden, president of the local chapter of the National Coalition of 100 Black Women, chimed in, “Chief Barker was truly a ‘chief for all citizens.’ He has given me a new perspective on the law enforcement profession in general and IPD in particular. He could see situations from many different perspectives and showed great respect and concern for all citizens in this diverse community.”

“The grassroots community of Indianapolis did not have a very good relationship with IPD before Jerry, but under his leadership the curve has turned,” wrote Olgen Williams, executive director of Christamore House. “The success the city is having is because of his leadership.”

On the secret to Jerry’s success, Hikmet Kutlu, executive director of HealthNet Foundation, comes closest when he writes, “I saw in him a firm but also a softer face of police. He struck me as a public servant whose power was rooted in his compassion, not in his rank.”

I can’t say it any better, and I’m sure he’s embarrassed by all this attention.

The good news for all of us is that Jerry Barker appears to be positioned to stay in the mix as special assistant to Public Safety Director Robert Turner. May his influence on this city continue.

Katterjohn is publisher of IBJ. To comment on this column, go to IBJ Forum at www.ibj.comor send e-mail to

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