INDIANAPOLIS, Ind.– Two weeks from today, there will literally be a new sheriff in town.
Democrat Kerry Forestal, a colonel under current Marion County Sheriff John Layton, takes over Jan. 1 after his boss retires following a 44-year career.
Forestal is a veteran sheriffs deputy who returned to work for Layton in 2015 after serving as the U.S. Marshal appointed by President Obama.
“I looked at the U.S. Marshal as a federal sheriff,” he said.
Forestal said upon his return to MCSO to oversee criminal investigations, deputies boosted the number of fugitives arrested for outstanding warrants.
“We went from about 1,800 arrests a year to about 4,200 arrests and that’s with a reduction in staff and a reduction in the amount of money spent,” he said.
Last week, Forestal received an audit performed by KPMG of sheriffs operations and spending that found the office hampered by low pay and chronic turnover, excessive overtime and high mileage on its aging vehicle fleet.
The audit makes several staffing and operational recommendations that could conceivably save more than $10 million a year when weighed against the 2019 $115 million budget.
“I think there are some efficiencies we may not have taken unless this was pointed out,” admitted Forestal.
Forestal said after the first of the year, he will consider prioritizing sex offender checks on the most dangerous clients, hiring civilians to enhance data collection and analysis, change jail wagon shifts to accommodate gaps in current arrestee transportation coverage, improve recruitment of jail detention officers and deputies, work closer with judges to enhance the timely transportation of arrestees to court and the release of defendants on bail and open talks with various local police departments about the risk level of the people who are being arrested and taken to jail.
“One of the things that (the audit) shows is a lot of arrests for driving while suspended, public intoxication and possession charges,” he said. “All important at the scene but they really tie up the jail and for somebody to come to jail for three to five days, isn’t it better to have ticketed them and send them to court?
“Over 53 percent of the people in jail are waiting for trials and lower level felonies. We don’t need to fill the jail with those people. The sooner we have the trial, either find them not guilty and free them or move them on to the expense of the state prison, so that’s one of the important things we need to do.”
In the battle against violent crime, Forestal said his deputies will listen in more on jail phone calls.
“What I want to do is increase the intelligence that comes out of the jail. We have 2500 people who want to get on the phone all day long,” he said. “We have to be a source of intelligence if there’s a tragedy that occurs somewhere, whether its in Lawrence, downtown Indianapolis, they’re gonna get back here on the phone and talk about it. If we can get that information and share that with the arresting agency, that benefits everyone.”
The new jail at the Community Justice Center will open on Forestal’s watch in 2022 and the incoming sheriff said he is looking forward to the Assessment and Intervention facility on campus to off-ramp arrestees with mental health or substance addiction issues who would not necessarily be best served by incarceration in the jail.
“A third of the people that we have right now have been already arrested within that past year. That means a third of our population have been arrested again. Don’t we have another option rather than locking them up again?”
Forestal said a priority will be to convince Indiana lawmakers to raise the per diem paid to sheriffs to house state inmates in their jails from $35 to $55 per day, still below the daily costs at the Marion County Jail, but enough to add $2.4 million per year to the new sheriff’s budget.
Layton will serve as President of the National Sheriffs Association where he said the eyes of nationwide law enforcement are on Marion County and construction of its new $570 million Community Justice Center.
The outgoing sheriff will remain as a liaison and consultant to Forestal during construction of the new courthouse, jail and sheriffs office site.