Marion County police departments concerned violence will increase after sheriff’s office halt of services

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — Police departments throughout Marion County insist the sheriff’s office decision to halt some services beginning January 1 will increase public safety challenges throughout the area.

Today, police departments from Lawrence, Speedway, Southport, Beech Grove and Cumberland stood alongside city leadership from their excluded cities to address their concerns over the MCSO decision to halt arrestee transportation to the new Community Justice Campus and the Eskenazi Hospital Detention Unit.

“What are we going to do? We’re going to pray for the best,” Lawrence Police Chief David Hofmann said.

These police departments and communities received official word on Dec. 16 the Marion County Sheriff’s Office would no longer provide transportation for arrestees to the new jail nor to the Eskenazi Health detention unit. They also will no longer cover the cost of the arrestee’s medical care nor staff the detention unit at Eskenazi Health.

“Like right now, we have one officer on the street in Southport,” Chief Thomas Vaughn said. “So, if he had to go down and sit in Eskenazi, then we’d have to start making phone calls, trying to find somebody to come in.”

Police departments in Marion County officially found out about the changes taking effect on January 1 on December 16. Lawrence Police Chief David Hofmann said these additional duties will take officers off the streets.

“Those who remain will take runs and they’ll be coming from further away, most likely,” Hofmann said. “With less backup officers, I think all of our residents can expect extended response times.”

The sheriff’s office said they could not commit to an interview today as they moved into the new Community Justice Campus. Instead, they sent this statement:

“The Marion County Sheriff’s Office has long reported critical staffing difficulties and the fact that no other Sheriff’s Office in the state is saddled with the costs of arrestee healthcare and transportation – costs the Sheriff has no ability to control. The MCSO’s transition to the Community Justice Campus (CJC) will double the number of inmates for which we provide direct oversight. The most recent Controller-directed budgetary process simply did not fund enough MCSO staff to handle this significant increase and perform arrestee services. According to Colonel James Martin, the Controller’s financial priority was for the MCSO to eliminate arrestee services and focus on staffing and security for the Adult Detention Center, CJC, and City-County Building.”

According to the December 16 letter from City Controller Ken Clark to the mayors of Beech Grove, Lawrence, Speedway and Southport, the controller said the Hogsett Administration requested MCSO continue these services but the sheriff decided to move forward with the halt.

A city spokesperson said the controller’s office offered to fund security at the city county building through a different funding source in order to free up some MCSO money. But they declined the offer and moved forward with halting their transportation services to the county.

Police say this leaves officers in a difficult spot.

“This is an example of a sharp reduction in the services and an erosion of public safety at a time when records are being shattered,” Hofmann said.

In a previous interview with Forestal, he told our crew he expected fewer arrests to be made after January 1 as the burden of transportation falls to the other agencies.

“I think that may change some people who have made it too easy to arrest somebody,” said Forestal, “like if somebody’s been in an accident and they find they may have a four-year-old suspended-while-driving warrant and they want to serve it, well, that agency will now be responsible to maintain security.”

Dep. Chief Robert Mercuri of the Beech Grove Police Department said this is no way to operate.

“The sheriff himself has said that this will result in less arrests,” Mercuri said. “Is that what we want in Marion County? As we watch the news every day when we wake up, that’s what we want right? We want less arrests.

Mercuri explained a summons arrest is a promise to appear. If the person does not show up, a warrant is issued for their arrest. Mercuri said officers must follow the judge’s orders.

“Discretion is always part of that job, but when it says you shall arrest, that’s what we should do. That’s what we have to do.”

Clark said the county will continue to cover the medical costs of those detained because state law requires it, so that burden will not fall to the cities. The Hogsett Administration also offered to make American Rescue Plan Funding available to IMPD and other police agencies to pay officers’ overtime in 2022.

“What’s most concerning to me and to the police chiefs I have talked to, is that it doesn’t really matter how much money you want to throw at overtime,” Lawrence Mayor Steve Collier said. “We don’t have the manpower, we simply don’t have the manpower to cover.”

The decision for MCSO to stop these services impacts IMPD as well. In a previous interview, IMPD said this change will require significant adjustments from their department.

City leaders said they will continue asking the Marion County Sheriff’s Office to staff the detention unit at Eskenazi and transport arrestees to the hospital and the jail. Officers tell us they hope a meeting is called soon and the decision will be reversed.

“We can at best provide what would literally be a stop-gap measure but it could not be long lasting,” Collier said.

“Multiple Councillors, particularly those whose districts are home to the excluded cities, have been tracking the Marion County Sheriff’s long-planned policy changes to arrestee transport and supervision since they were articulated in a public budget hearing several months ago. These Councillors have been in contact with both the Sheriff’s office and the City Controller, and were advised of the good faith effort made by the Controller to cover expenses the police departments of excluded cities will incur for arrestee transportation. The Council will continue to closely monitor progress on this issue toward a resolution of these policy changes.” – Angela Plank, City-County Council Spokesperson

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