After 2 tax hikes, Indianapolis still has fewer police officers

September 20, 2016

The city of Indianapolis has raised income taxes twice in the last nine years to raise money to hire more police but it still has fewer officers.

As of the beginning of the month the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department had nearly 60 fewer officers than it did when the first tax hike was added in 2007.

City documents show the city is spending 33 percent more on police than it did then and the biggest reason is pay raises, according to analysis by The Indianapolis Star.

Indianapolis has about 1,600 officers who get paid about 25 percent more than they did in 2007.

In the past, city officials and City-County Council members have blamed slow growth on a number of factors: the economic recession and property-tax caps, the rising costs of health care and equipment, and challenges associated with attrition.

In 2014, the city added a net of 23 officers for the first time since 2010. But the move depleted the department's budget. That same year, a bipartisan staffing commission recommended raising income taxes and eliminating the homestead property tax credit to raise $28 million for an additional 270 officers by 2018. The council agreed only to the income-tax hike, which, combined with the 2007 hike, added up to a 0.65 percent public-safety income tax.

But not all of the money went to IMPD. County criminal justice departments got nearly half. And after the homestead tax proposal was cut, IMPD was left with about $16 million a year to spend.

"When I did my analysis, we were spending about $75,000 for a first-year officer, and then it got to about $100,000 after the third year," including a patrol car and equipment, council's Chief Financial Officer Bart Brown said. Multiply $100,000 by 150, and it comes in under the $16 million the tax was generating for IMPD.

However, part of that $16 million is still paying for the officers the city already couldn't afford.

"The problem is the health insurance and the contract. That's what we have trouble funding. If you really look at the big funding issues for IMPD, it really is anything we negotiate for pay raises and health insurance," Brown said.

Exactly how the $16 million is being spent is not clear. According to Brown, public safety income tax money is commingled with IMPD's other revenues, and there's no way to segregate income tax spending from property taxes and other sources in city budget reports.

"I believe fundamentally that we're not allocating it to where it should be going," said Councilman Aaron Freeman. "We're not adding to the ranks. If anything, we're just treading water."

The union that represents officers, the Indianapolis Fraternal Order of Police, didn't respond to requests for comment. Its president asked for additional pay raises at a budget hearing last week.

By the end of the year, IMPD is expected to be 93 officers short of Mayor Joe Hogsett's target of 1,743. Not accounting for pay raises, reaching that goal would cost another $9.3 million a year.

After two tax hikes produced 59 fewer officers, Hogsett says he'll increase the ranks without asking taxpayers for a third.


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