IMPD faces tough competition for police recruits

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An IMPD officer arrives at the scene of a downtown traffic accident on Tuesday. (IBJ photo/Eric Learned)

Police departments across the country are playing tug-of-war for potential recruits, and Indianapolis is working to find an advantage.

Mayor Joe Hogsett’s administration has boosted starting pay for new officers, offered signing bonuses and launched a marketing campaign to attract recruits from other Midwestern cities.

Joe Hogsett

But the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department still has more than 250 police-officer positions left unfilled as it competes with other cities offering their own signing bonuses of as much as $30,000 for out-of-state recruits and free flights for potential officers wanting to visit for a police ride-along.

Surveys show recruitment is a nationwide problem for police departments as attitudes toward law enforcement careers worsen and the resignations and retirements of police officers ramp up.

A survey from the Washington, D.C.-based Police Executive Research Forum of 184 law enforcement agencies found a 42.7% increase in officer resignations from 2019 to 2021 and a 23.6% increase in retirements during the same period.

Those circumstances and an upcoming election have put Hogsett under increasing political pressure to fill the open police-officer slots as he seeks a third term as mayor.

Robin Shackleford, who unsuccessfully challenged Hogsett for the Democratic mayoral nomination earlier this month, has criticized the mayor for making little progress in increasing the number of police officers.

Republican nominee Jefferson Shreve, who will face Hogsett in the November election, also has criticized the mayor on that front.

He has suggested that more needs to be done to assess why police officers are leaving the force and address their concerns. But he hasn’t suggested specific policies to boost staffing and land more recruits.

IMPD’s staffing problems are nothing new.

During Hogsett’s first run for mayor in 2015, he pledged to hire 150 more officers.

At an event in March, Hogsett noted that IMPD has brought on 715 officers during his tenure to fill vacancies created by retirements and resignations, and that those officers now account for 46% of the department’s staffing.

But the department is still 250 shy of the 1,843 officers budgeted for this year. That is the staffing level a 2016 study commission recommended as appropriate.

John Barth

That commission, chaired by Democratic City-County Councilor John Barth, also recommended increasing officer pay; the city followed through on that suggestion.

As Hogsett noted at a recent recruiting event, city police officers in 2016 started with annual pay of $39,000. Under his leadership, that has increased to almost $62,000 a year, plus a $10,000 signing bonus.

He noted that the total of $72,000 is approaching his mayoral salary of $95,000.

A $965,000 recruitment marketing campaign is also underway with billboards in Indianapolis’ Midwestern peer cities.

Hogsett said the recruitment campaign “spans media, cities, states and includes communities of every background.”

Barth said another initiative that might help with recruiting is the city’s effort to shift mental health emergency calls away from the police force to a clinician-led response team that the city is creating this year and is funding with $2 million.

“I think the fact that the city is investing more resources in mental health issues, and the state is concurrently—those two things together will make meaningful improvement over time,” Barth told IBJ. “But that doesn’t change the right-now problem of there being an expectation of officers to have this 360-degree skill set that no human being has.”

Hogsett committed to the creation of a clinician-led response team about a month before a Black man suffering a mental health crisis died last year after being shot with a stun gun by an IMPD officer.

Last month, two officers were indicted by a grand jury on charges related to the death of Herman Whitfield III.

Stephanie Whitehead

Such incidents add to the national scrutiny of polices use of force since the 2020 killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

They also discourage people from wanting to become police officers, said Stephanie Whitehead, an associate criminal justice professor at Indiana University East.

“[Policing] used to be seen as, you know, exciting, helping people,” Whitehead said. “A lot of people are turned off now by seeing the bad side of a department.”

Public safety reforms can help change some of those feelings, she said.

IMPD has instituted a new use-of-force policy and deployed body cameras department-wide. Changes also have been made to training, with the addition of implicit-bias awareness modules and de-escalation training. IMPD’s General Orders and Use of Force boards now have civilian majorities.

IMPD detectives follow up on the investigation of one of three shootings in Broad Ripple last weekend. (IBJ photo/Eric Learned)

The Hogsett administration also is using its recruitment campaign as an opportunity to diversify the police force. It is currently nearly 80% white and 86.5% male.

IMPD currently has two Burmese officers to help build relationships with the city’s growing Burmese community, which, at 24,000 people, is the largest in the nation.

In late March, both participated in a recruitment event at the Burmese American Community Institute.

Officer Bawi Lian encouraged other Burmese to join the department. IMPD Chief Randal Taylor chimed in, too.

Ida Williams

“We have specialty divisions, K9, SWAT, narcotics,” Taylor told the group. “All kinds of different things for you to get into and help you to hone your skills and become an expert. That’s what we’re hoping will happen.”

Commander Ida Williams, who has been with the department 33 years, said police departments nationwide—including IMPD—have signed on to a U.S. Department of Justice goal to make police recruitment classes 30% female by 2030.

She said the goal is attainable if more women can be persuaded that police work is open to them.

“I’m amazed that I run across young girls and young women who don’t think they can do this job,” Williams said. “And I’m living proof that they can.”•

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15 thoughts on “IMPD faces tough competition for police recruits

  1. Who wants to work in a police department where the anti-police activism in a city
    is rampant. Anti- cop people videoing your every move for a gotcha moment
    to destroy your career. One mess during a explosive adrenaline moment
    could end your career and you’ve lost everything.

    Police can make as much in many suburban communities with out all the nonsense.

    1. Agreed. I would add that $62k a year is not nearly enough for what the job entails. No way I would risk my life and put up with what cops do for that much money, especially when you can almost always make more in the surrounding suburbs. That kind of pay is not going to attract and keep the better recruits.

    2. One mess during an explosive adrenaline moment? Like shooting someone when you have 3-4 other measures to deescalate before the handgun needs to be used? Or using excessive force when it is nowhere near necessary. Those aren’t gotcha moments, those are accountability. Police are supposed to serve and protect not abuse and murder

  2. Why would anyone in their right mind come to a George Soros led prosecutor and mayor’s city? I pray for the officers indicted for political gain. Anyone who doesn’t see where this all ends have their eyes shut. Social workers are not going to go out on a violent psychopath who even their family can’t control. And then to indict the officers who do respond. Good Luck. Hello Portland, Seattle, DC, St Louis, Minneapolis, LA, (Fill In Democratic Socialist City Here).

    1. Agreed,
      That indictment a couple of weeks ago was just another reason for police
      applicants to think twice before considering Indianapolis.

    2. There’s only two major cities in America that are Republican led…. It’s such a silly comparison.

      Indy IMPD make 100k full package their first year and never chase nor leave their cars….

      Seems pretty cushy

    3. Good to see JJ Frankie J. volunteering for this critical role. Here is the link-

  3. Keith, Recording police doesn’t equate to anti-police, if they are not doing anything wrong it shouldn’t be a big deal at all. Accountability is important and there are bad officers on every single major police force. A police career isn’t “everything” but one “mess” could also cost someone their life and THAT is everything!

    1. Joe A.
      Agreed that police need to be held accountable. There are bad police officers
      also that need to be monitored and kept in check.
      But constantly demeaning the police and trying to trip them up to destroy
      their careers or endanger their physical safety is NOT helping the
      recruiting & retention process one bit.

      Police are human beings. Push then hard enough and often enough their response
      will be less than pleasant. That’s what the anti – police activists try to do.

      There are many anti—cop activists looking for any opportunity to
      trip up an officer. They do it by getting up on the cop trying to distract and interfere.
      Trying to anger the officer into an inappropriate response for a gotcha moment.

      Then there are the sky high sky high intensity moments when the adrenaline is pumping rapidly and the cop is not suppose to utter an unpleasant word.
      Or worse may use force that is deemed unnecessary by a slight degree.

      There’s a reason why a person must be 25 feet back to video a cop.

      That said, the Blue Wall was of Silence is crumbling very rapidly.

    2. A sound line of reasoning that it is perfectly reasonable to apply to teachers as well. More often than not, the bodycam has vindicated the cop. If they aren’t doing anything wrong, both teachers and cops should be perfectly fine with the public viewing their every move when they’re on the clock.

    3. Lauren,
      Not all, but most Police Officers like wearing body cams they wear. It protects
      them from false accusations.

      The videoing that I’m referring to are the the anti – cop activists that are up close up
      interferring with the police. A lot of anti – cop activists trying to catch cops in a
      gotcha moment. They are out there causing problems and getting in the way.
      Looking for that slip up so they can destroy a cops career.

      That’s why the state legislature put limits on how close civilians can get
      to video. Because of people getting up in the cops faces.

      People videoing must now stand back 25 feet by law. A very reasonable distance
      so they’re not getting in the way of a crime scene or an arrest.

    4. Lauren,
      You would be ok with your every move being scrutinized and videoed for a
      gotcha moment??? I find that hard to believe.

      I’ve always Worked hard and tried to do my very best on the job. But I sure
      as hell don’t want my every move being videoed. That is utter nonsense.
      Especially from someone trying to disparage my work.

  4. After watching how Mayor Hogsett mishandled the downtown riots, he deserves this struggle. Unfortunately, the good people of Indianapolis, some of whom are afraid to come out of their homes, do not.

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