Marshawn Wolley

Marshawn Wolley

Not a surprise to careful observers of IMPD, Chief Bryan Roach announced his retirement from IMPD earlier this week

Chief Roach has been one of the best we’ve had in the role. He has had to make some tough calls that might have made officers mad, in doing so he restored some trust within the community, particularly on his decision to seek the termination of the officers involved in the Aaron Bailey police action shooting.

I personally appreciated the chief’s leadership style, engagement with community, transparency and willingness to take on the tough issues. 

I always got the sense that he was trying to do the right thing — which meant IMPD was trying to do the right thing. 

And while some may not have liked all of his decisions — I read in the Bible once that they crucified Jesus. 

In other words, you’ll never please everybody. 

The data will show homicides were a real problem — especially in the Black community — specifically Black males. But the data will also show declines in overall crimes including violent crime, and more significantly for our community a sharp reduction in police-action shootings. 

Chief Roach led on police reform by implementing fair and impartial policing training, reviewing use of force standards, creation of a Diversity and Inclusion office and made progress in increasing diversity within recruit classes. We also saw the promotion of Black police officers during his tenure. 

Often Chief Roach was held accountable for stuff other officers did. Or took unjustified criticism and even attacks from the community. I’ve never seen Chief Roach lose his cool or even get flustered. He served the city well and has earned a retirement. 

So, who might try to fill Chief Roach’s shoes?

Names that I am hearing include Chris Bailey, Josh Barker, Valerie Cunningham, Randall Taylor, Lorenzo Lewis and Karen Arnett. Lloyd Crowe has also come up in the mix. Each of the candidates have senior executive experience within IMPD with the exception of possibly Lewis. We should also consider that there is no rule that says that the IMPD chief of police has to be a guy.  

Selecting a Black chief of police just because they are Black is obviously problematic, but it is striking that all of the agency heads making criminal justice decisions in this county are white males. 

Diversity can bring many things and, in this situation, it might bring improved legitimacy. There isn’t a county level criminal justice agency head that I know that isn’t talking the language of criminal justice reform and thinking about ways to keep people out of the system. 

A lot of work is being done in this space but the extent to what is being done isn’t quite getting to the Black community. 

But there is also the issue of fake reform. 

Some in the community have expressed concerns about the new criminal justice complex and whether we need it (we do), we have more people on ankle monitoring systems than any county in the United States, and there is real concern that too many in our community are catching federal cases.

None of these issues are in the control of IMPD, but the public safety system, from a legitimacy perspective is only as strong as its weakest link.  

A Black chief isn’t a guarantee that when the IMPD contract negotiations begin that we will get an improved use of force standard, or that the general orders will include a multi-agency investigation for police-action shootings involving a civilian fatality, or even that IMPD will consistently report crime data disaggregated by race moving forward. 

We still need a use of force board which includes civilians. 

But what a Black chief might do is help accelerate the trust building process necessary in law enforcement in Marion County, particularly within the Black community which is disproportionately impacted by public safety concerns — if it is the right candidate. 

Hogsett fired a popular Black police chief in Rick Hite. 

To his credit, he stood by Chief Roach even as homicides escalated. If Hogsett hires a Black chief my hope is he stands beside him like he stood by Chief Roach.

But more important, we should hope that IMPD continues to move forward in the direction it has been heading.  

What I’m hearing…

Finally, the African American Coalition of Indianapolis hosted a discussion on Black Economics on Black Friday. Perspectives ranged from tackling institutional racism in city policies and financial institutions, as well as the simple recognition that Black folks need wills and life insurance. People from over 30 cities from around the country watched the conversation. It stimulated conversation in our community, some of it critical — but that comes with the territory. When over 3,000 people watch a conversation held in Black Indianapolis on Black Economics on Black Friday something good happened. 

The community also lost a pastor’s pastor in Rev. Frank Alexander. He was a leader in Martindale Brightwood for years. He will be missed. 

See you next week.

Marshawn Wolley is a lecturer, commentator, business owner and civic entrepreneur. Contact him at marshawnwolley@gmail.com.

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