Randal Taylor, chief of the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department for nearly 4 years, announced Dec. 15 his plans to step down to a different role within the department by the end of the year.
Taylor began his law enforcement career in 1987 in Champaign, Illinois. He moved to Indianapolis to join the Marion County Sheriff’s Department in 1993 and in 2007 joined IMPD when the Sheriff’s Department merged with the Indianapolis Police Department.
He vacates his role at a difficult time for the department, which faces a staff shortage and questions about a rash of police-involved shootings.
With just over 1,500 police officers, the department is about 300 shy of its budgeted staffing level. The city budget includes 1,743 officers, while the Hogsett administration has allocated American Rescue Plan Act dollars for another 100 salaries.
This year, there have been a near-record 18 police-involved shootings. According to the department’s September budget presentation, there were 20 officer-involved shootings in 2015, the highest during Democrat Joe Hogsett’s two terms as mayor. This year, the shootings have resulted in 10 deaths. Clergy groups in August called for Taylor to resign, The Indianapolis Star reported.
In an interview with IBJ, Taylor reflects on his time as chief, the issues facing the department, his support of non-police interventions and the impact of Indiana’s law allowing the permitless carry of handguns, which was passed by the Republican supermajority in the state Legislature.
The transcript has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
When you look back on your time as chief, what do you hope people latch on to as your legacy and the important things that you’ve implemented?
Probably transparency inside of the department. When I came on, you know, we finally got body cam footage on things and have shared that through critical incident videos, which is, I think big for the department and for the community. I think it’s helped people to see what officers are faced with. You know, those videos have shown some things we’ve done really right, some some things we didn’t do so well. But that’s what transparency is. You know, it’s not just for the good things.
So, I think hopefully that’s helped people trust the department a little bit more. I think it was a move in the right direction. Some things in policy that we changed, taking out chokeholds having proportionality a part of our use of force, I think are all steps in the right direction and things that I think the community will be happy with and hopefully our officers are happy with as well.
What do you plan to transition into doing next?
I’m hoping to work with victim families. That’s always been something that’s been important to me, making sure that our victim families are connected with detectives and that they’re being communicated with properly through the department, making sure they’re getting the assistance they need.
But also, along with that just kind of being an aide hopefully, maybe even a sounding board, to whoever replaces me. But most of my time is going to be spent looking at not only homicide victim families, but when I meet with the community members [they] reference our critical incident videos.
A lot of times when they look at those videos, they’ll have questions about ‘well, we know we know what happens for the officer when they’re involved in this but what about community members that weren’t involved, but live in the area or saw that incident? What do you do for them?’ So trying to find ways to make sure that they’re getting taken care of as well, and keeping the balance between what really the police department should be doing and maybe what a private organization may be able to help with as far as citizens are concerned.
That the hope, that’s the goal. I’m sure there’ll be other little things in there that will kind of be on the periphery of that but that’s what the main cause is.
Has the mayor asked for your input at all in who you would like to become your successor?
I think he knows that, you know, I think I’m comfortable that whoever it is, is probably going to be someone from within. So that’s a decision he’ll have to make, what he feels comfortable with. Me, I’ve honestly I’ve told him any of my commanders or above probably could do the job but he hasn’t asked me to tell him who it should be per se.
What do you feel like the challenges or successes were when it comes to dealing with negative perceptions that downtown is dangerous, especially following the riots in 2020?
Well, you know, obviously, these aren’t people that are looking at statistical data because statistics would show you that downtown is probably the safest place to be.
But I get it, you know, some of our issues are with bars and stuff, although in this past year or two, I’ve seen those things change as well where, you know, problem facilities have been dealt with a little bit better. So I’m very appreciative of that.
I see that there’s possibly a sale of Circle Centre Mall by a local establishment group. Very excited to see what that could be as far as the mall is concerned. But I think if you look at things you know, we really haven’t had the same issues with juveniles as we had in the past, I think things have simmered down there a little bit.
And it’s “as downtown goes, so the city goes” sometimes. But, you know, we’re back to having conventions. We’ve had a number of big conventions with little or no incidents, which is always good. We’ve got an NBA All Star game coming up here shortly. That’ll be exciting.
I think things are starting to come back around. It’s slowly starting to get out away from COVID. But obviously, I’m always going to be concerned with what happens in the city. We’ve had some issues in the past. We had the military guy that was killed, that was terrible. But it’s not just downtown—anytime we have violence like that, anywhere in the city I’m concerned about it. I know whoever replaces me will be concerned about it. And those are things we’ll have to stay focused on.
With downtown, homelessness is an issue. What do you feel the role of IMPD is in dealing with homelessness?
I think that’s like a lot of things—mental health issues, homeless issues—-things that land in our lap that probably shouldn’t be there. But you know, we end up stepping in whenever there’s a void. Sometimes that works out, sometimes it doesn’t work out.
I don’t think we’re necessarily the best to be dealing with the homeless or people with mental health issues, but we do have arms that can work with that. They just implemented not too long ago that the mental health group that is just clinicians, not police. I look forward to seeing that grow and see how that continues.
We do have a [a group of officers who specialize in homeless issues] that I think do a great job. But I can’t help but think that there may be something better in the private sector to really deal with that once and for all…I think the best we can do as a department is to try to smooth things out the best we can from the standpoint of panhandling and those kinds of things where you’re making other people uncomfortable, but also making sure that those—whether they choose to be homeless or they’re unfortunately, homeless—are protected, and especially as we come into the winter months, that they’re warm and safe.
You mentioned the clinician-led community response team. Do you hope to see more investments in programs like that, that takes some of the burden off of IMPD especially while there’s a shortage of officers?
Definitely, definitely. I mean, so obviously when weapons are involved. maybe it’s a little different story, but I think really, most of the people that we deal with from a mental health standpoint are not particularly violent. So I’m excited about that clinician-led group. I’m hoping that they succeed and continue to grow. I think that’s certainly moving right in the right direction. And, and yeah, it does free up our officers to do other things. And so I always think that’s good.
With permitless carry having been the law for over a year, do you think there’s a clear impact on that from the IMPD perspective? Has it influenced the high number of police-involved shootings?
Hard to say on the police involved shootings, just because you don’t know if that person would have carried one way or another. We’ve always had people that were going to carry whether they were permitted to carry or not… Some of the problem is, I think people feel because you no longer have to have a permit that everyone is just permitted to carry and that is not the case.
I think that was a terrible move from the Legislature’s standpoint. I don’t understand why we had to do that. I’m sure they have their reasons, but I would hope that they would change their mind on that. The benefit to us and the public was, when you had to have a permit if we came across you and you had a weapon and you didn’t have a permit, then we’re good [to cite a violation].
Now, those same things that would prevent you from having a gun still exist, but now the burden is on us to deal with that. And the problem with that is a lot of times you come across a vehicle that, you know, has done something and when we start to investigate and find that weapon, and you don’t have a permit, we can take care of it right then and there.
But now we have to research it which means it’s going to take time, it’s not going to be during probably a normal vehicle stop and those kinds of things. I just think that it hampers law enforcement in a way that shouldn’t happen.
The other thing that we do see is this huge increase in people accidentally shooting themselves or shooting others … typically because they don’t know how to handle the weapon.
Having led IMPD through record high homicides in 2021 (at 271), what were your successes in trying to get that number down?
I wish we could get the numbers down further than what they are. I mean, these things are group efforts. There’s a number of things that are going on that are trying to reduce those numbers. Some of the things the mayor has implemented, Some of the things we’ve implemented.
Obviously our crime gun task force plays a huge role. I think our violent crime reduction teams out in the district has a lot to do with it. People in [the Office of Public Health and Safety] have their hand in it. So who has done a lion’s share of what’s bringing those numbers down? I don’t know. I just hope we continue to have success with it.
I’ve always said that part of these homicide numbers is you’ve got to find people who are emotionally mature enough to be able to de-escalate when they get mad and not pull guns in order to solve problems. Those are heart issues and those are mind issues. Those are things that have to be done prior to someone taking those steps and that’s a little different route to go. I can put officers out there. But if someone is determined for whatever reason that you’ve done something so egregious that now they have to kill you, that’s a problem, right? So I’m hoping that we continue to make moves to bring those numbers down, but I would be much more happy if we can convince people that using a gun to solve problems is not a good alternative.
Does it seem like the tide is turning at all when it comes to recruiting new officers?
It depends on what day you catch me, but for the most part, I don’t see change as quickly as I’d like to see change.
I’m encouraged because we just swore in a group of officers last week, and it was a very diverse group, and I felt great about them. There’s not as many of them as I want, but it is moving the right direction. But you know, we got people that retire, but you can’t—man or woman who does 20 years or 20 plus years—I can’t fault them for wanting to retire. I get it.
But these groups of young people that we’re dealing with handle things very differently too. When I started 36 years ago, you got on a department and you stayed there for a career. If you did move, you did it relatively early, like myself, but you usually went to another department.
Now we get young people that will be on the department for a few years and then totally get out of law enforcement. And of course, some go to other departments and stuff. We’re trying to a figure out why they’re doing that, how to keep them from doing that. Making the department and law enforcement as a whole more appealing is something that we’re all going to have to deal with, including whoever the next chief is because we’re budgeted for 1,743 [officers] and we’re at about 1,510.
Bringing in new officers … doesn’t necessarily balance with retirement. So you’re behind the curve, and that’s not where we want to be. But it’s not an Indianapolis problem, it’s law enforcement across the nation. Going to have to hope that if we don’t figure it out, another department figures it out and we can do a best practice kind of thing.
What about Indianapolis and IMPD makes you decide that even after leaving the role of chief you want to stay on?
Well one, I’m in the retirement program which is going to require me to stay here for another year-and-a-half to make it financially beneficial. But honestly, even though I acknowledge I probably wouldn’t have been able to maintain as chief for a couple of years, I would still be able to work for the department, as I plan to.
I still love the job. I still think there’s huge value in it. And I love Indianapolis as a whole. You know, the real question will be what happens after this next year-and-a-half, when I do actually have to retire from the department? Will I continue on in law enforcement in some capacity, or will I leave it completely? I think it’s in my blood enough that I probably will never leave it completely. But I really do—I raised my family here in Indy—so I love the city. I’m very optimistic that things are going to change for the better. I want to be part of that.