FRANKLIN, Ind — At a time when police departments are examining their policies and procedures, Franklin Police Chief Kirby Cochran says he hopes to strike a balance between duty to taxpayers and fair due process for officers accused of a crime.
“That’s heavy in the discussion right now, and that’s why we’ve involved the attorneys,” Cochran said. “What I think might be a great idea, maybe legally it’s not going to pan out exactly that way.”
Discussions are underway to update Franklin city code and the Franklin Merit Board rules so that an officer who is accused of a crime could be placed on unpaid leave while the investigation and trial are still pending.
“What we’re trying to do is not be paying officers to be off work, spending tax dollars for officers to be off work, ultimately to get terminated,” Cochran said.
Under previous merit board rules, which have only been edited once in 30 years, Cochran said officers could sometimes be suspended with pay for a year while awaiting the conclusion of a trial.
Another policy change could give the chief the authority to terminate an officer before the outcome of a trial if the situation involved a blatant lapse in conduct.
“It would definitely have to be something that’s egregious enough to meet that burden, and those are some of the things that we’re still trying to work out,” he said.
All of these decisions would be made on a case-by-case basis, and the merit board would still have the option of putting an officer on paid leave, depending on the individual situation, Cochran said.
While state law allows for officers to be suspended without pay, Indiana State Fraternal Order of Police President Bill Owensby says those rules are often governed at the local, municipal level.
“I think timeliness and case-by-case basis is the way to do it,” Owensby said.
Speaking in general terms, Owensby said he can understand a situation calling for an officer being suspended without pay, depending on the severity of the charge against the officer. However, he also said the accused officer deserves a fair and prompt investigation.
“A lot of times, you’ll have agencies that will suspend an officer without pay but then drag out the investigation for a year,” Owensby said. “That’s totally inappropriate.”
Cochran said the updated policies will include mechanisms to reimburse lost salary if an officer is exonerated.
“We would obviously have to go back and move that money from the budget to their salary,” he said.
The policy updates would require changes to Franklin city code and merit board rules. Final wording and approval may not come before mid-year, Cochran said.