INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – The police chief of the Indianapolis Metro Police Department told FOX59, he would give himself an average ‘C’ grade for the job he’s done so far as Indy’s top police boss.
The grade comes as 2018’s homicide numbers trend towards setting another record for the deadliest year in decades.
Chief Bryan Roach sat down with FOX59’s Aishah Hasnie for an exclusive interview about crime in the city.
Nearly every night, shots are fired in Indianapolis. And nearly every week, someone is killed by gunfire. Tracking the city’s data, FOX59 found only two weeks in February that someone had not been shot to death.
“We aren’t where we wanted to be,” said Roach. “I don’t think it’s just me that’s disappointed. I think the community as a whole.”
Eighteen months ago, Roach took charge of IMPD. At that time, Indianapolis had just closed out its deadliest year in nearly two decades with 149 criminal homicides.
Under the leadership of Mayor Joe Hogsett, Roach was tasked with reducing that violence. But 2017 came and went with even more criminal homicides. 156 people dead.
And 2018’s numbers continue to climb. As of August, we’re at 86 criminal homicides.
“If you’re selling narcotics, you’re typically protecting your narcotics with a gun. If you’re robbing people, you typically have a gun,” said Roach. “Conflict resolution. Social media. So many of our violence has been conflicts that get escalated through social media.”
It was a social media fight that recently spilled out onto the streets and resulted in the shooting death of 13-year-old Harry Taliefer.
Police said the boy was trying to stop the fight and wound of up shot. At this vigil, Roach admitted to us, that his summer youth anti-violence program didn’t seem to working out so well.
“I think that was an emotional reaction, right?” he recalled. “Saying it’s not going well doesn’t mean I’m changing the path that we’re going on.”
That path includes the city doling out more than $2 million dollars in crime prevention grants. It’s pulling in grassroots groups and it just appointed two new peacemakers who will work one-on-one with families in the most violent neighborhood.
“The violence is a symptom of a lot of underlying issues. Education, poverty, food deserts, but there`s also, there seems to be a lack of hope in some of our young people. They don`t see themselves outside of their circumstances and so when you think that`s all life is and there`s no one that can show you there`s something else, then you resign yourself to that,” Roach said.
Those societal challenges are met with another problem: staffing.
According to numbers obtained by FOX59, right now there are 1,640 officers employed at IMPD. There’s just one more recruit class to hire this year. IMPD’s goal is to hit 1,710 employees by the end of this year. But Deputy Chief Chris Bailey told us they may fall short of that goal.
“We’re struggling,” Bailey told us.
IMPD’s recruiting unit is using everything from ads on buses and radio to job fairs and social media to get the word out. But Roach admits, recruiting has been difficult since recent police shootings of black men across the U.S. and the massive protests that followed.
“We’ve got to bring both sides together and there’s got to be an understanding of how we approach people and how people receive us.”
That comes, he said, by building community trust. Even through some of the some difficult times.
“Let`s bring up the Aaron Bailey shooting. That was tough for the city, for the police department, for our officers, for command staff, for the mayor, for everybody in the city. But right off the bat, we sat down and tried to get some understanding on both sides and an understanding of the process and communicating that process. And although some may be unhappy with the end result, I think they understood the process and accepted it for what it was,” Roach recalled.
After the Bailey shooting, there was a very public clash between Chief Roach and the Fraternal Order of Police when Roach called for the firing of the two officers involved. He said he knew he had to work to mend those relationships fast.
“A lot of talking. A lot of discussions. It would`ve been so easy for the FOP and this administration to separate and not to have those discussions, but the FOP president and I continue to have dialogue like we did prior.”
We asked him, how would he grade himself today – midway through 2018 – with a rising homicide rate and pressure to turn things around.
‘What is that?” asked Hasnie.
“C,” replied Roach.
“Why?” Hasnie asked.
“Probably because the things that you start out trying to do haven`t come into fruition yet,” he explained. “It would`ve been nice at the end of last year to have a decrease in the number of homicides. It would`ve been nice at the end of last year to be at a point where you felt the relationship you had with your officers and the relationship that officers had with the community is better than what it ends up being, right?”
So I guess I would give myself a C because the things I would like to do haven`t come into fruition yet, but I think the work in order to make that happen is occurring,” Roach said.