INDIANAPOLIS, Ind.-- The two IMPD officers being investigated by a special prosecutor after killing an unarmed man on Indianapolis’ northwest side this summer both took their oath to protect and serve the citizens of Indianapolis on June 2, 2014.
The hiring of recruits Michal Dinnsen and Carlton Howard came as the department was struggling to recover from years of financial mismanagement by the city’s former public safety director Frank Straub while then-Mayor Greg Ballard was running an annual municipal deficit in the wake of the Great Recession.
As IMPD’s sworn manpower nosedived from 1634 officers in 2011 to 1502 policemen and women in 2014, the department’s training academy processed only 20 recruits from 2011 to 2013.
“There wasn’t hiring. There wasn’t a plan,” said IMPD Chief Bryan Roach, tapped by Mayor Joe Hogsett to lead the department this past January. “We didn’t hire any at all so we have been digging out of that hole and at the same time we lost a lot of experienced officers.”
When former Public Safety Director Troy Riggs took over for Straub, he found every department under his command drowning in red ink with no money to hire new officers.
“So we looked at projections and we thought there was a danger that we could actually drop below 1,500 officers. Now that would have been a crisis situation,” recalled Riggs, now the vice president of the Sagamore Institute, an Indianapolis think tank which studies public safety issues. “We found enough money to hire 90 officers after about a year and a half, almost two years.”
IMPD’s 9th Recruitment Class, its first since 2011, was sworn in during a ceremony in the Public Assembly Room of the City County Building more than three years ago.
Recruits Dinnsen and Howard were about to begin their policing careers, but after only about two years on the streets, the young officers, with no immediate senior back up, stopped a car driven by 45-year-old Aaron Bailey in the early morning hours of June 29.
IMPD has not yet explained why Bailey was pulled over.
After just a few minutes, the officers said Bailey drove off, crashing his car at the corner of Burdsal Parkway and Koehne Street where he reportedly refused to surrender and was shot to death.
Bailey’s family disputes whether he refused to surrender.
That day, Chief Roach told reporters that his officers felt their lives where in jeopardy after the crash as they ordered Bailey from his car.
“You bring up Aaron Bailey,” said Roach during a recent interview, ”and so I think those were two young officers and so it's just natural to think, ‘Hey, had they been more experienced officers, had this turned out differently?’ We don’t know yet because we don’t know all the facts but certainly it's something that goes through your head.”
In August, a special prosecutor took over the investigation into the actions of Officers Howard and Dinnsen.
Despite public calls by supporters of the Bailey family that the officers be fired immediately before the investigation is completed, St. Joseph County Prosecutor Kenneth Cotter will examine not only the IMPD response that night but also weigh U.S. Supreme Court rulings that give precedence to the officers’ perceptions of danger.
Howard and Dinnsen emerged from a recruit class that had fewer officer mentors with five to ten years on the force as IMPD was losing dozens of veteran officers annually to retirement.
“What happens is when people walk out the door, they can’t transfer that knowledge to as many people as they could if they had filled those slots,” said Riggs, “so when those slots go unfilled you’ll have a few years there where there will be a tremendous amount of rookies on the street, people will be learning the job and quite frankly a new officer really doesn’t feel comfortable until he or she has four or five years on the street.”
Since that 2014 recruit class was sworn in, the IMPD experience level has slowly improved.
“There’s a lot of experience there and understanding and development in what’s going on between three years and seven and ten,” said Roach. “We have a body in the academy that’s going to replace that person but it's that knowledge and that experience that we won’t be able to replace with that one person.”
Two weeks after the Bailey shooting, IMPD reported that it had 1647 officers, 842 of them patrol officers below the rank of sergeant to actually take runs and make traffic stops.
Of those officers, 224, or 29 percent, had at most two years of street experience.
As young officers gain confidence in their skills, they do so in an ever more violent environment.
Recent FBI statistics found that violent crime in Indianapolis climbed seven percent in 2016 over the year before. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) reported that in 2015, 12.2 million new guns were added to America’s arsenal.
IMPD records show officers took 555 stolen gun reports in the first eight months of this year and recovered approximately 2,100 firearms in the course of crime investigations.
“If you compare this time last year the guns that we’ve recovered to this year, we’re up, we’re taking more guns off the street,” said Roach. “I would say the number of guns in the hands of people has increased.”
IU Law Professor Jody Lynee Madeira tracks gun statistics.
“There are more guns available, there are more guns being stolen,” she said. “I think the proliferation of guns is connected to the increase in murders that Indiana has experienced which I think is up 4.1 percent in the last year.
“I think you get a high percentage of correlation between folks that commit criminal activity and folks with anger management issues, folks who are desperate in some way with lower inhibition impulse control issues for example and finally just drugs, simple drugs, so there might be any number of reasons why with this extra tool things get infinitely more deadly for police officers.”
In the year before and after the Bailey shooting, ambushes in Baton Rouge, Dallas and New York City killed several police officers while in central Indiana, Southport Police Lieutenant Aaron Allan was shot to death responding to a car crash and a New Castle policewoman killed a suspected car burglar after he shot her in the chest.
Across the United States, 118 officers were killed in the line of duty in 2016 and in Indianapolis, 57 officers have been injured so far this year.
“We’ve reviewed our officers assaulted for the first four months of this year,” said Roach, “which would be indicative of the kind of confrontation that they’re having and it's about 40 incidences up so there’s a trend up in officers being assaulted.”
“I think too cops are subject to what they are seeing in the news around them,” said Madeira. “They’re worried about getting shot, they’re worried about being brought up on charges, they’re worried about being sued civilly and that should deter them from shooting but I think again it feeds into the desperation of that situation and clearly there are lapses in judgment on both sides and protocol is not followed.”
While Roach said his department is on track to have 1,743 officers on duty by the end of Mayor Joe Hogsett’s term in late 2019, filling those slots during a strong economy will be a challenge when other career options for the best applicants are plentiful.
“It's not a time when people want to be the police so your pool is even smaller than it has been in the past,” said Roach who is looking to hire at least 55 recruits to fill a December class at the IMPD Academy. “We just gave a written exam that was part of our process in August and it’s the first time I can remember that we had to give it twice because we did not get enough people.”
In 2016, Metro police officers were involved in 16 police action shootings, three of them fatal.
Thus far this year, IMPD has recorded just five police action shootings; only one of them resulted in a death.
The special prosecutor’s report into the Aaron Bailey shooting could be released at any time.