Business heavyweights raising cash for cops through foundation

A new foundation supporting the Indianapolis Department of Public Safety starts work in July, and its board is stacked with business and political leaders eager to help Director Troy Riggs advance the city’s cash-strapped operation.

Chaired by Melissa Proffitt Reese, a prominent partner at Ice Miller LLP, the Indy Public Safety Foundation has recruited former Sen. Richard Lugar, Indiana Pacers President Jim Morris and OneAmerica CEO Dayton Molendorp to its 15-member board.

Riggs Riggs

The idea of a private not-for-profit supporting the city’s police and firefighters has been kicked around for years but finally gained traction last fall, when Riggs was hired from Corpus Christi, Texas, where he was chief of police and then assistant city manager.

One of Riggs’ priorities was to import ideas from the police foundation in his hometown of Louisville, where he was assistant chief, and apply them on a larger scale in Indianapolis. Riggs oversees police, fire, homeland security, emergency medical services and animal control with budgets totaling $413 million and the equivalent of 3,359 full-time employees.

The foundation is coming together at the same time Republican Mayor Greg Ballard and the Democrat-led City-County Council continue a tug-of-war over the politically sensitive topic of dwindling police manpower. Facing yet another budget deficit in 2014, Ballard wants to hold the line on police spending, while council members keep pushing to tap new revenue sources for a recruit class.

The foundation’s modest fundraising goal of less than $1 million won’t solve the immediate problem, but Riggs, who earned an MBA while in Louisville, hopes its members will also serve as a sounding board for his myriad ideas and help the department translate its goals into a detailed business plan.

Reiterating his promise to Ballard, Riggs said, “I will not ask for officers until I can tell you we’re as efficient as possible.”

Riggs has launched more than two dozen “efficiency teams,” which are reviewing everything from violent crime to allocations of manpower. Those teams’ findings will be incorporated into his 2014 business plan, Riggs said.

Melissa Profitt Reese Reese

Rather than asking the foundation to buy special equipment, Riggs’ top priority is to create a training program for mid-level managers with an eye toward reducing legal liabilities. The city spent $2.6 million last year on legal settlements of all types and $3.8 million so far this year. Much of that is the result of Officer David Bisard’s 2010 crash into a group of motorcyclists. The city is considering a bond issue to finance $2.3 million owed to surviving victims Kurt Weekly and Mary Mills.

Riggs said his concern about the lack of training for supervisors stems from his years in the field, where he saw officers sent into duty while struggling with suicidal depression and marriage problems.

Reese, who was on the search committee that recommended Riggs, said she instantly gravitated to his idea of forming a private foundation, partly because of how he envisioned using it.

“It demonstrates how broadly he looks at public safety,” she said.

public-safety-factbox.gifRiggs is open about wanting to replicate the Louisville Metro Police Foundation’s other successful programs, including offering marriage counseling to address the high divorce rate among police. Reese said one of the foundation’s major roles will be to recognize individuals, a way to boost morale in a work force that doesn’t see as many opportunities for raises or promotions as in the private sector.

Recruiting the foundation’s high-level board was easy because a safe city is obviously beneficial to the local economy, Reese said. Plus, people are naturally inclined to support police and firefighters.

“It’s somewhat of a patriotic response and wanting to give back and thank those who have put their lives on the line,” she said.

People in the business community are aware of Riggs’ specific challenges, too, said board member John Neighbours, partner at Faegre Baker Daniels. Many are volunteering or serving on the boards of other not-for-profits that work in struggling neighborhoods, he said.

“People are seeing that these communities are threatened because of crime, not just because of poverty,” said Neighbours, who is a director of the Meadows Community Foundation.

The new foundation’s fundraising efforts might be muddied, however, by the advent of a similar group, the Indianapolis Police Foundation of the Fraternal Order of Police.

The Indianapolis police union, FOP Lodge 86, pitched the idea of a supporting foundation to former Public Safety Director Frank Straub three years ago, FOP President Bill Owensby said, but Straub didn’t act on it. Finally, the FOP decided to launch the not-for-profit independent of the director’s office.

Owensby said the FOP supports Riggs’ effort and will try not to overlap the public safety foundation’s programs.

“There are a lot of things we can do collectively,” he said.

Board President Danny Overley, a retired deputy chief and president of the Professional Police Officers Credit Union, said the police foundation will be more community-directed, taking donations marked for specific causes, such as a fallen or injured officer, or K-9 units.

“My goal is really to reach into the grass roots,” he said.•

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