Indiana Sens. Jack Sandlin, Scott Baldwin and Aaron Freeman are the authors of Senate Bill 168, which seeks to remove from the city of Indianapolis all authority to administer the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department and to appoint its police chief.
This authority would be handed over to four police commissioners appointed by the governor, with the mayor of Indianapolis serving as the fifth member of the commission. And even though the city would have no authority to direct how funds would be spent, the state would generously leave Indianapolis the responsibility of funding and approving the budget for IMPD.
The commissioners, who could only be removed by the governor for just cause, would not be accountable to the people of Indianapolis. Even the governor would have to abide by their legally binding decisions, no matter how much he might disagree. SB 168 sets forth no requirement of training or qualifications for the commissioners. As far as SB 168 goes, the governor could appoint anyone from anywhere in the state to run IMPD. SB 168 requires the taxpayers of Indianapolis to pay the commissioners.
The commissioners appoint the police chief, who, while accountable to the commissioners, is not accountable to the people. The commissioners would set the agenda for the goals and objectives of IMPD and would be free to turn their backs on the city’s request for special policing needs and support.
So, who would voters, police officers and the police union be able to blame if the commissioners are ineffective in dealing with crime and policing? I suppose they could vote against the governor who appointed them, but if the rest of the state that is unaffected should decide to support that governor, he/she would likely be re-elected.
No other police department in the country is operating under such a system, and I suspect that is for good reason. While the commissioners would set the agenda and objectives and determine the equipment and facility needs of IMPD, Indianapolis could refuse to fund what the commissioners request.
You cannot govern effectively when you have no idea whether you will have the fiscal resources necessary. When budgets are drafted, the city’s entire needs are considered, and the limited pie is divided accordingly. Under SB 168, the commissioners would draft a proposed budget without knowing how the amounts they are seeking would fit in with the overall budget.
I suspect that SB 168 was offered in response to the enactment by Indianapolis of the civilian-majority General Orders Board. This board has authority to set “all department directives and policies concerning procedures for investigations, searches, seizures, arrests, use of law enforcement discretion, use of force, and other official operational actions provided for by state, federal, or local law,” but it has no authority to enact general orders relating to the organization of IMPD, its administration or personnel processes.
In contrast, SB 168 gives the commissioners complete authority over everything except fiscal matters. The other striking difference is that, if we do not like what the General Orders Board does, we can hold the elected officials of Indianapolis accountable at the ballot box. No such freedom is afforded by SB 168.
SB 168 is among several bills attempting to grab power from those duly elected by the people of Indianapolis to govern the city. That the authors of SB 168 are Republican while the mayor and council of Indianapolis are Democrats is no coincidence. Coups appear to be the political fashion of the day.•
Celestino-Horseman is an Indianapolis attorney. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Click here for more Forefront columns.