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.