IMPD Reforms to Build Trust

IMPD will begin using body worn cameras soon. Utility Inc. photo

by Thomas P. Healy

Mayor Joe Hogsett, Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department Chief Randal Taylor, and City-County Council President Vop Osili announced several policing reforms during a May 12  joint virtual press conference.

“Every resident of Indianapolis should feel they can depend on our police to protect and serve residents equally under the law,” Hogsett said. In an effort to demonstrate a commitment to building bridges of trust through actions and policies, City officials resolved to do the following:

  • Distribute body cameras beginning in July
  • Establish a new Use of Force Review Board that includes civilian members
  • Complete review of IMPD’s updated Use of Force Policy and submit for adoption.

“We all want a community that is safe,” Chief Taylor said. “These policies will take time and we want to get them right.”

All officials declined to comment on last week’s police action shootings and other incidents involving IMPD officers. “We will not be able to answer any outstanding questions as it relates to last week’s incidents,” Mayor Hogsett said. “It’s now in the hands of the Marion County Prosecutor’s Office and the soon-to-be-named special prosecutor, with monitoring by federal authorities.”

He added, “I see the frustration and heartbreak our city endures. I share that heartache and I know Chief Taylor shares that heartache.”

Officials stressed that the public safety reforms are part of a long-term strategy to build trust and increase transparency and accountability in IMPD.

“These changes flow from our ongoing dialogue with our community. Your voices do matter and we are listening,” Councillor Osili said. “Yes, the wheels of government move more slowly that we’d like, but even though it’s a long time coming, change is coming and the voices of the community are driving that change.”

Body Cameras

Chief Taylor noted that IMPD launched a pilot project in 2014 to examine the feasibility of equipping officers with body cameras. “Cost, lack of community buy-in, and outdated City technology kept it from being implemented,” he said.

In August 2018, the Hogsett administration, with support from the City-County Council, invested more than $35 million in public safety technology infrastructure. Key to the upgrade was a new Computer-Aided Dispatch (CAD) system that replaced a decades-old system and added capabilities for information-sharing between analysts at the Real-Time Data Center and public safety professionals in the field.

Beginning in early 2019, IMPD undertook another body camera feasibility study. A 45-day pilot project using technology from three different vendors began in July. Officers participating in the pilot shared feedback that was collected and analyzed by the IU School of Public and Environmental Affairs at IUPUI. The school also managed a web-based community engagement process that surveyed residents’ attitudes, expectations, and concerns regarding body cameras. Community partners helped host a series of public listening sessions to gather additional input.

Upon completion of the pilot project, Mayor Hogsett added a $1.2 million request in the 2020 operating budget to permanently implement body cameras. “This marks the first time in our city’s history that IMPD has been provided the resources to make body cameras a reality,” Hogsett said. Chief Taylor said the deployment is scheduled to begin in July and last through September.

IMPD has selected Utility Inc. as the vendor. Taylor said the firm has the best technology for decentralized storage of body camera footage and for providing a variety of automatic mechanisms to activate equipment.

According to IMPD chief communications officer Aliya Wishner, the department is working to finalize a body worn camera policy. “This policy would dictate when officer’s cameras should be recording,” she said, adding that the final policy will be made available to the public before rollout of the technology to officers begins.

In a phone interview, Jason Dombkowski, director of law enforcement relations for Utility, said the company specializes in policy-based recording. “Whatever the agency’s policy is, we tailor the system to turn on the BodyWorn camera for the officer and let the technology work on their behalf,” he said.

Regarding data storage and security, Dombkowski said Utility’s AVaiLWeb platform relies on cloud storage from Amazon GovCloud. “It’s the secure cloud that has to be compliant with the Criminal Justice Information Services (CGIS) [PDF] security policy,” he noted, and added that all footage is offloaded immediately from device to the cloud in the field. “It’s instantaneously secure,” he said.

Use of Force Review Board

More than a year in development, the Use of Force Review Board will include civilian members as well as police officers. The advisory group will consider instances including physical altercations, taser deployment, or use of a firearm. It can issue an advisory finding limited to determining whether the officer’s actions were within departmental policy. Civilian members include one nominated by the mayor, one nominated by the president of the City-County Council, and one nominated by members of the department. Prior to appointment, civilian members will be required to complete ride-alongs as well as receive training covering use of force, IMPD general orders, and applicable Merit Laws. Continuing education will also be required. Mayor Hogsett has asked Chief Taylor to submit this request in the next 15 days to IMPD’s General Order committee that establishes policies and procedures for officers and employees.

Use of Force Policy Update

IMPD’s Policy and Planning Division has been working over the last two years with legal experts to craft an updated use of force policy that incorporates national best practices within the local legal framework. As part of this process, visual documents for learning have been created and incorporated directly into the policy, and an updated training curriculum will be deployed at the training academy. The updated policy is expected to go before the IMPD General Orders Committee in the next 30 days.