Plan to dismantle Department of Public Safety by 2017 approved

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Joe Hogsett

By Brian Eason, IndyStar

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (April 11, 2016)– The Indianapolis City-County Council on Monday night approved a proposal to dismantle the Department of Public Safety by 2017, cutting administrative staff and elevating the police and fire chiefs to true department heads who report directly to the mayor, our partners at the Indianapolis Star report.

The proposal represents the first major restructuring of city government under Mayor Joe Hogsett, who has said it will eliminate an unneeded layer of bureaucracy and make him the de facto head of public safety.

The plan passed 17-7 with bipartisan support, with Hogsett overcoming several defections from his own Democratic Party.

“The passage of these changes rejects the status quo and embraces an over-the-horizon, holistic approach to crime prevention and mental health,” Hogsett said in a statement. “I want to thank council President Maggie Lewis, Minority Leader Mike McQuillen and forward-thinking members of the council for their work to create a safer Indianapolis for all residents.”

Today, the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police and Fire departments are not true departments but divisions of the Department of Public Safety — a bureaucratic nuance that means the police and fire chiefs report to the public safety director and not directly to the mayor’s office. When Hogsett took office, he signed an executive order delegating more responsibility to the respective chiefs, but council approval was needed to formalize the new structure.

Hogsett’s plan cuts 22 administrative positions from Public Safety at a savings of roughly $500,000 annually, according to a city budget analysis.

In its place, the proposal would create a new Office of Public Health and Safety, tasked with diagnosing and treating the causes of crime. It would supervise a handful of divisions, such as offender re-entry and emergency medical services, that don’t fit under police or fire.

Indianapolis Animal Care and Control would become a division of the Department of Code Enforcement, while Homeland Security would become a subagency of IMPD.

The reorganization reflects Hogsett’s commitment to a community-based crime-fighting strategy that the city has been crafting for years under Police Chief Troy Riggs, who last served as the director of public safety under Mayor Greg Ballard. Programs such as the partnership with Gleaners Food Bank and prekindergarten scholarships — welfare programs at their core — have long been sold to the public as crime prevention tools.

Most Republicans supported the plan, but a few said they had reservations about the promised savings.

“I think the cost savings are not going to be there — in fact, we’re going to end up paying more money for this transition,” said Republican Councilman Jack Sandlin, who voted against it.

“There’s been no discussion and no presentation of what the cost is to set up the new organizational structure.”

Administration officials have said that cost-cutting was not the primary focus of the reorganization, but that they did expect to implement the cuts as planned.

“We’re going from 24 (employees) to two. That’s significant,” Andy Mallon, city corporation counsel, said at a committee hearing in March. “Half a million dollars — that’s significant.”

Much of the opposition came from Democrats, a few of whom walked out of the meeting earlier in protest of a failed bid to reshape the Police Merit Board to promote diversity hiring.

Councilman Joe Simpson was among those who walked out. He pledged to call for an audit of the restructuring to make sure the implementation adheres to Hogsett’s promises.

“We will look at auditing for at least two years,” Simpson said.

This story originally appeared on IndyStar.com.