Those who look at anger and outrage to gauge how much a public official cares about violence in his or her community will probably be unimpressed with new Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department Chief Randal Taylor.
He’s said since being appointed by Mayor Joe Hogsett on Dec. 31, 2019, he’s an even-keeled guy who doesn’t express a lot of emotion. Taylor said he learned that from his predecessor, Chief Bryan Roach, whom he described as “a cool and calm customer.”
“I won’t say I don’t get mad from time to time,” Taylor, 55, said in a recent interview with the Recorder, “but really, I’m trying to come up with whatever’s going to be the best solution.”
Indianapolis is in need of solutions.
There were 153 criminal homicides in 2019, according to data from IMPD, down from 159 in 2018. It was the first time since 2012 that the number of criminal homicides did not reach a new record high. Still, 75% of victims last year were Black.
Nearly 80% of deaths were caused by a firearm.
While the number of criminal homicides overall dropped, the number of victims younger than 18 went from seven in 2018 to 15 last year.
A common sentiment both inside and outside of the police department is police alone cannot solve or prevent violence. It was something Taylor — who’s the third Black police chief in the histories of former Indianapolis Police Department and IMPD, created when Marion County Sheriff’s Department and IPD merged — reiterated multiple times at his introductory press conference.
Robin Bankhead, who lives on the north side, said she knows police “can’t solve everything.” But she does still have some criteria for what she expects from IMPD under a new police chief, including better communication and having more respect for the community.
Bankhead has a personal example of what this looks like. She said a neighbor called the police on her 89-year-old aunt, who has dementia, for taking the license plate off of his car. The officer who responded talked calmly to Bankhead’s aunt and said he understood what was going on because his grandpa also had dementia.
But Bankhead wondered what might have been different if that officer didn’t know how to communicate with her aunt.
“I just want someone who’s responsive and listens and cares about the community,” she said.
Taylor said he’s been building those relationships since being appointed assistant chief in 2016 by going to the funerals and viewings and meeting with victims’ families.
Now, as the man in charge, it’s part of Taylor’s job to evoke that same sense of community from his officers.
“I think that’s gonna be a big part of us having some victory over some of these numbers that we’re trying to reduce.”
Taylor, like his predecessor, has touted the implementation of smaller police beats, which leave officers responsible for a smaller geographical area and ideally allow them to get to know the people in those communities.
The department is currently short of its goal of having 1,743 officers, but Taylor said that should happen “fairly quick,” though he didn’t specify when because it depends on the sizes of the next couple of recruiting classes.
Taylor explained when he says “we can’t police our way out of it,” he means there isn’t a specific patrol plan that’s going to drastically cut the number of criminal homicides, for example.
But Taylor hopes more officers in smaller beats results in them getting in front of incidents before they happen.
“I mean, we can make arrests,” Taylor said. “… But there’s always someone to take their place. When you start looking at beats and those things, your goal is to start building the relationships prior to people making those poor decisions of going off and pulling triggers.”
That’s part of what Katrina Lewis is hoping comes under Taylor’s leadership.
Lewis, 41, lives on the far east side and said the policing that happens in her area is more like “harassing.” That said, Lewis also wants more officers to help deal with crime.
“I would like to see … a police force that understands that area and that can police that area in a way that’s not so confrontational,” she said.
Taylor has been hesitant to articulate goals when it comes to reducing the numbers of homicides and non-fatal shootings and so on. He admits it’s probably unrealistic, but Taylor said he’d like to see those numbers cut in half.
“But I’m a realist from that standpoint,” he said. “I don’t know that that’ll happen. I expect us to move in a progressive manner and for those numbers to continue to drop. Some of that is gonna be in our control, but a lot of it’s not. If we can’t get ahold of people and help them to change their mind, then those numbers may go the wrong way.”
Contact staff writer Tyler Fenwick at 317-762-7853. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick.