Review finds Indianapolis police not prepared for May’s downtown protests

Protesters face off with police on Market Street in Indianapolis. (IBJ photo/Mickey Shuey)

An independent review of the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department’s response to May’s downtown protests—and subsequent riots—determined law enforcement was not adequately prepared or trained to respond to the events, contributing to a situation that resulted in significant property damage.

In fact, the review said IMPD’s initial response to the unrest likely “escalated tensions” of the crowds, worsening the situation.

The 44-page report, made public Friday, examines the events of May 29 through June 1, when social justice protests took over the streets of downtown Indianapolis following the death of George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis. It was compiled after dozens of interviews with IMPD officers and leadership, protesters and other witnesses, along with viewing hours of video footage from throughout the three days.

It also includes extensive examinations of the training undergone by local and national law enforcement agencies to handle protests and volatile situations, and offers several recommendations for how Indianapolis law enforcement could better respond to protests in the future.

The review was conducted by a three-person panel that convened last June: former U.S. Attorney and U.S. Assistant Attorney General Deborah Daniels, former Indiana Supreme Court Associate Justice Myra Shelby and Martin University President Sean Huddleston.

In a summary, the panel states “that the size of the crowds and IMPD’s lack of preparation for the type of demonstration that occurred” made for a challenging situation, along with training-driven efforts by police to handle the situation as a crowd-control issue rather than a peaceful protest.

Additionally, “the fact that these protesters were protesting the police themselves, contributed to nothing short of a conflagration and significant property damage to the Downtown area,” the report said.

The report indicates that in addition to law enforcement and peaceful protesters, other groups were also present at the demonstrations, including individuals who sought to engage in looting and vandalism; “right-wing activists with long guns” who went downtown to preserve monuments; and individuals influenced by the Antifa movement, who brought supplies in anticipation of tear gas and other riot-related irritants.

However, the report found most of those who took part in the demonstrations were from Indiana, rather than other states, as some have suggested.

“Police witnesses … expressed that, based on the arrests they made, they were surprised that so few were from outside Central Indiana,” the report said.

In a written statement, Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett—who assembled the panel—said he is taking the report’s recommendations seriously.

“Since those days in late May and early June, IMPD has made a series of substantial changes, including reforms to IMPD’s Use of Force policy, the creation of a Use of Force Review Board, civilian additions to the General Orders Board, and operational changes to the department’s response to large-scale gatherings,” the statement said. “These adjustments have been consequential, and Indianapolis has seen over 150 protests without similar incident since June 1. However, our work will not stop.

“IMPD will continue to adapt and improve its policies and practices to best serve the needs of Indianapolis, leading through transparency and community-led, community-engaged policing. We value the conclusions made by this report, respect the tremendous amount of work that went into this important document, and will work to implement the recommendations.”

The panel made the following recommendations:

— Improved training is necessary, including specific improvements to how officers are taught to protect First Amendment rights and the individuals who are protesting. The panel said such training “should include cultural competence, differentiation between lawful protesters and criminal actors, and de-escalation training.”

— A better internal planning and communication system is needed, including development of a strategic plan for any instance of public protest, including the differentiation between peaceful protesters and individuals committing criminal acts, such as vandalism and other property damage. The panel said this plan should be conveyed to all officers and that there should be better communication among the city’s various agencies.

— Police should use a de-escalation approach, rather than an approach that focuses on disorder—a change the department made with the protest at the Governor’s residence on June 1, as noted by the panel. The panel said that while disorder control is appropriate in some rioting situations, it’s not helpful in coping with peaceful protests. Disorder control is  “likely to have a tendency to exacerbate, rather than relieve, tensions,” the panel said.

— Avoiding excessive use of force should be something “clearly instructed” by IMPD leadership. The panel said tear gas should not be used to disperse crowds—something the city and IMPD agreed to with the American Civil Liberties Union last year—nor should pepper spray or pepper balls, except in situations where an individual is “committing offenses.”

— Encircling crowds, or “kettling,” should be avoided, because it only heightens tensions.

— Avoid an aggressive posture in interfacing with crowds, starting with the attire. The panel suggests front-facing police officers should be dressed in normal uniforms, with officers in riot gear staged nearby—but out of sight—in case they are needed.

— Improved outreach to the community could go a long way in improving IMPD’s relationship with the community, starting with active listening. The panel recommended that department leadership solicits input from the community, and follows through on the advice it receives. “While communication is a two-way street, IMPD must realize that the responsibility for improving communication with the community is primarily its responsibility,” the panel said.

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33 thoughts on “Review finds Indianapolis police not prepared for May’s downtown protests

  1. One of the biggest takeaways is that the report says IMPD was indeed responsible for the escalation from a peaceful protest to a riot, due to armoring up and gassing people before there was any kind of property damage.

    Seems obvious, but some people still don’t get it. IMPD causing chaos with violence gave bad actors a way to cause damage and lessened protest organizers’ ability to reign those people in.

    Cue suburban commenters yelling that “DOWNTOWN IS DESTROYED!”

    1. Randy, is it ok if Antifa smashes the windows of your windows in the name of “justice”? Yeah, I didn’t think so…

    2. Is this some elaborate troll because I refuse to believe that this drivel is real.

      The responsible parties are the individuals who destroyed downtown and no one else. Grow up and stop blaming everyone else.

    3. I’m just a downtown homeowner and a concerned citizen who’s tired of the police defunding the city to the tune of nearly 1/3 of the yearly budget.

      And for those of you who think Hogsett is somehow anti-police, he *increased* the already huge police budget this year.

    4. If IMPD would not of been told to stand down and give them some room, they would of handled the provacotaurs and had the national guard back them up. You the would see much less damage and long term effects. As a downtown home owner you should know better than anyone, Hogsetts actions has set downtown back 10 years if not more. The donut counties have little desire to support downtown because of the riots, and the murder rate. And you can blame whom every you wish, but the buck stops at the CEO’s desk and that is Joe Joe.

  2. Yes, it’s so very obvious. It’s all the police’s fault. In fact, if there wasn’t any police presence, there wouldn’t have been any rioting or property damage. I get it now. Thanks for the clarification. I only hope there wasn’t a significant investment to craft this report articulating how it was all the fault of the police.

    1. If you were paying attention, you’d have seen that riots didn’t start until police start causing chaos with teargas. The police inherently escalate situations. They gave opportunities for bad actors to act badly.

    2. Yes, because using teargas on peaceful protesters happened in every major city in the country–which is why the “peaceful protests” turned violent in almost every city in the country. Because using teargas on protesters is the status quo for most police forces. Because police are always eager to find new ways to subject their departments to class action lawsuits through wrongful use of deterrents. That’s the ticket.

      If teargas gets deployed, there’s a 99% chance that the elements of a riot have already started: graffiti tagging, trash receptacles overturned, windows smashed, fires set, looting. In the past, the radicals could repeat a lie often enough and eventually it might get treated as truth. It’s so much harder in 2020, when everyone has a video camera and can chronicle the reality at hand. By no means was every protestor there a rioter; in fact, the majority probably were peaceful at the onset. But it turned to a riot, and any protestor committed to a peaceful solution should have high-tailed it at that point. Leaving the remainder–who rioted and faced the exact response one should expect when fomenting anarchy, wanton destruction of property, and violence. Like the imbeciles on January 6th seem to be getting, albeit much more bluntly.

    3. Yea defund the local police and then you get nationalized police. If you think local police are bad wait till you have less say so.
      In fact next time you need the police don’t call them, I promise they won’t show up.

  3. Yeah, anybody who actually watched these events unfold by being there first-hand or watching livestreams knows that rioting didn’t start until teargas was used. Teargas is an escalating force. It caused chaos, which gives cover for bad actors to act. And you know what? The riots stopped when the police stopped using teargas.

    1. Wrong… I watched the looting unfold on live TV and the police were not even anywhere nearby when the looters started breaking windows and causing all kinds of other property damage. Keep spewing what’s your Antifa leaders tell you to say…🙄

    2. Glen F – two knucklehead comments in one article – winner winner! So, we should assume your armchair assessment from the TV screen at home is better informed that an official independent investigation. Riiiiight!

  4. Attitude and performance is a direct reflection of leadership. Furthermore, it is always helpful if leadership has experience in the work being lead. You wouldn’t ask a layman to direct a surgeon in the repairing of the human body. The surgeon would ignore the layman out of lack of respect for their experience. And rightly so. Put another way, stay in your lane. However, I think it would be beneficial if those wanting to be involved in the leading got the proper training themselves, put on the uniform and dealt with the protesters. I am guessing that the change in perspective would be instructive.

  5. they got gassed when they started throwing stuff at the police and became “not so peaceful” protestors. they didn’t just start gassing people for no reason. these cops have to put up with so much – and then to get treated like this – all this will do is push out the good police and the bad actors will remain. we reap what we sow.

    good luck with this mess.

    1. “Poor baby police got hit with a water bottle and had to use chemical weapons to defend themselves. I feel so sorry for them!” At the end of the day, the police should be trained better than they were over the summer. They confronted a group of people who, at the time, were peacefully protesting THE POLICE. It’s obvious that trying to stopping them while wearing full riot gear was just going to escalate the situation – and it did. A water bottle got thrown at the police. And then it was obvious that unleashing chemical weapons on a crowd that is already upset at the police was going to escalate things again. Late May/early June in Indianapolis and across America was like watching the events that unfolded recently in Hong Kong all over again, with the exception of extreme cases like Seattle.

      The police are just as guilty as escalating the situation as anyone else. They acted like snowflakes who were overly excited to use tear gas – and they were even fist-bumping each other after shooting off teargas rounds. They absolutely should’ve handled the situation better and in ways that aren’t sure to be escalating tactics.

      My personal belief is that the benefits of letting a protest block the street so they can march their anger way far outweighs the repercussions of confronting them with force. The 1st Amendment is much greater than the privilege to drive. If the police never tried to block the protestors, no businesses would’ve gotten hurt and nothing would’ve gotten violent. When the police stopped interfering with tear gas and other escalating measures, riots stopped. The riots probably would have never happened if the police had done what this report suggests as well.

      The police responded exactly the wrong way and got the chaos their escalating BS was asking for. Hell, the police even teargassed a church service on the circle over that weekend. They were just out of control as anybody else. It’s sociology 101, not rocket science. And if the police did nothing wrong, the city wouldn’t have settled its lawsuits.

  6. Police, please don’t wear riot gear to a riot because you know, it could incite a riot. By all means, please wear ‘soft police uniforms’. I wish I could make this stuff up.

    1. So the report commissioned by the mayor fault no fault with leadership and officers being told to stand down. Concur with Dustin, good luck with this mess.

  7. The people that did the damage were not protesters, they were rioters and looters. I continue to wonder where they got all the bricks were used to smash windows. Our city should be ashamed and I hope city leaders get downtown in presentable shape before all the people come to town for the NCAA Tournament.

    1. Right, and the rioters account for less than 1% of those who were protesting. Indianapolis shouldn’t be ashamed, America should be ashamed. This happened in basically every major city. At that point, you have to start looking at national leadership to take responsibility. At that time, it was President Trump “leading” the county. He’s obviously part of the problem.

    2. Wesley, did anything bad happen in the last four years that wasn’t Trump’s fault? I had prostate cancer and had to have my prostate removed in October 2017, so I hope you can explain why that was Trump’s fault. Thanks.
      (You are so myopic it’s pitiful…are you making note of all the Trump policies Biden has been forced to employ in the last few weeks?)

    3. While you’re correct that most protestors were not violent–fair point–the fact remains that these sort of riots happened routinely during Obama’s second term, Wesley. And tens of thousands of protestors were completely violent, destroying one business after another. Keep pretending this isn’t the new norm for the left. Did you blame Obama back then? I didn’t. DJT had nothing to do with George Floyd’s death.

      If “America should be ashamed” it sure sounds like you’re justifying the rioting. Maybe the problem is the intellectual dead-end that leftism is finding itself in–that it can’t come up with new ideas and is forced to increasingly radical and unattainable notions of “equity”, getting people hyped up and angry because that’s what motivates them to vote, and, of course, turning to violence as a political solution…something we’ve seen far too often. Violence is disgusting when it comes from the right or the left–yet we see very little public discourse trying to excuse what happened on Jan 6. This article shows nothing but deflecting blame for the routinely violent left. If “institutional racism” is such a problem, dare we look at which political wing is dominant in 85% of the institutions? Why is racial civil unrest so common in Democrat-led jurisdictions?

    4. “Why is racial civil unrest so common in Democrat-led jurisdictions?”

      Well, for one, you’ve pointed out that Republicans are unable to win in urban areas these days. Is that failure to compete due to incompetence or is the GOP brand just repellant to city-dwellers?

      Despite a worsening crime problem, James Merritt did worse than the 2015 GOP mayoral candidate and cost the GOP seats all across Marion County. He had one issue he could hammer Joe Hogsett on 24/7 and was unable to do so. Why? This is a city that elected a Republican as mayor in 2007 and 2011. Indianapolis has had Republican mayors for 38 out of the last 51 years.

      And based on the legislative session so far, It doesn’t appear that the Indiana GOP is all that inclined to do much to help the 2023 GOP mayoral candidate contend. Mike Young, Aaron Freeman, and Jack Sandlin are doing everything in their power to encourage Indianapolis voters to vote blue no matter who.

  8. Mayor Hogsett was faultless?? He is better compared to the Roman emperor Nero who fiddled while Rome burnt. Thank goodness we have the IMPD to protect us and our city, which I used to be proud of.

  9. Where in this investigative report is mention made of where our “honorable” mayor was that infamous Friday nite? To my knowledge that has never been determined! Where the hell was his leadership? If the three individuals who comprised this panel would kindly explain their past “hands on” experience dealing with protests/riots like this then there might be some credibility to this report. God forbid the next time something like this protest/riot breaks out we could send the three panel members to the scene and tell the cops to stay home! In my opinion it took the business leaders of this city to get it back on its’ feet after this and other incidents were over.

  10. Peaceful protesters do NOT show up with backpacks of bricks, rocks & spray paint. Those were criminal rioters—-egging to fight & destroy.
    The peaceful protesters came with signs, words & passion to improve America. Big difference!