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Thursday, April 26, 2012

50 Years of Corruption in PD 'Overplayed a Bit'

Mayor Ballard downplays IMPD controversies, uncertified police chief 
Indiana FOX 59 by Russ McQuaid  -  April 25, 2012
 "Overplaying this a bit," Ballard says about Rick Hite, corruption issues

Indianapolis, IN -  Mayor Greg Ballard dismissed critics complaints and reporters' questions about his acting police chief’s lack of Indiana credentials and claims by his public safety director that he’s struggling to clean up “50 years” of corruption in Indianapolis law enforcement. “I think we’re overplaying this one a bit,” said Ballard. Ballard admitted he knew acting chief Rick Hite did not have credentials to be an Indiana police officer the day before Hite was named to replace Police Chief Paul Ciesielski. Ciesielski stepped down because of a controversy in the David Bisard case. “I don’t think we were anticipating this clearly,” said the mayor. “Clearly, we could have done this a year and a half ago. Frankly, we could have.” Hite came to Indianapolis as a deputy to Public Safety Director Frank Straub in the summer of 2010 after 32 years as a police officer in Baltimore, Md. During his tenure in Straub’s office, Hite has not updated his Indiana law enforcement credentials. “It’s a paperwork issue,” said Ballard as Hite is retrieving his personnel records from Maryland, sending them to the Indiana Law Enforcement Academy and awaiting word on whether he will have to undergo further testing and training to become an Indiana police officer. “We’ll move on.” Ballard refused to say if Hite was a candidate to be named as the permanent chief of IMPD. When asked if the city was conducting a nationwide search for its next permanent chief, Ballard said, “we’re always looking.”

On the day that it was announced Ciesielski was stepping down, Public Safety Director Frank Straub first told reporters and then City-County councilors that he’s fighting against up to 50 years of corruption in Indianapolis law enforcement. “Again, people might be overplaying it a little bit,” said the mayor who agreed that IMPD’s disciplinary problems might be a mixture of corruption and misbehavior. “I don’t think its been that continuous. I think there’s been pieces here and there.” During an appearance before the City-County Council Public Safety Committee, which is holding hearing on his reappointment, Straub referred to newspaper articles that he said detail corruption problems among Indianapolis police dating back to the 1970s. During that tenure, Republican Stephen Goldsmith was either the prosecutor or mayor for 20 years. Republican Scott Newman filled the prosecutor and public safety director positions for 10 years. In March, Straub told councilors that he was facing a $15 million budget deficit and expected to run out of money to pay IMPD’s electricity bill by the end of April. Marion County Sheriff John Layton also announced he was facing a $16 million deficit, nearly half of it due to inmate medical care costs. Straub has since told councilors he has cut his deficit in half by not purchasing 200 new police cars. Instead, federal officials are allowing the city to use unspent grant money to purchase 80 new cars which will be given to officers on special assignments. Their cars will be transferred to patrol officers. “We’re not over budget,” said the mayor of the public safety director’s deficit though Ballard expects a $50-75 million deficit in 2013. “The sheriff’s office is the only one saying they’re over budget and I don’t think they’re over budget anyway. I think they’re overspending.” As part of the consolidation that united the Marion County Sheriff’s Department and Indianapolis Police Department several years ago, Indiana code called for three financial audits during the first two years after the merger. Those audits were not conducted under previous Mayor Bart Peterson or the current administration. “That’s before my time,” said Ballard. “I’m going to look at inefficiencies. If there’s an audit afterwards to increase the trust, then maybe. “There’s efficiencies to be had across the board in public safety and you’ll see us here in the near future get to them.” On Tuesday, Fraternal Order of Police Lodge #86 released a 10-point plan to reduce the IMPD budget and bring about reforms in the department. The mayor agreed with a spokesman who said elements of the plan were undoable, illegal or a smokescreen for law enforcement creep by Sheriff John Layton. “They’re a union representative,” said Ballard, dismissing the FOP’s role as an advocate for the opinions and concerns of its 1600+ IMPD members. “They’re not a police department or the sheriff. They’re a union.” A prominent Republican City-County councilman has considered holding a news conference, possibly with other councilors, calling for the removal of Frank Straub as public safety director. Other councilors were rebuffed in their attempts to speak confidentially as a bi-partisan group with the mayor about their concerns for the direction of public safety and the police department in Indianapolis. When asked if he would be willing to meet with such a group of community leaders, Ballard answered, “certainly we’re open to those conversations.” Within two hours, Ballard’s staff was reaching out to councilors, requesting they schedule one-on-one meetings with the mayor to discuss public safety.

Many of these issues were raised in the wake of last week’s revelations that a key piece of evidence in the criminal trial of an Indianapolis police officer accused of running down a trio of motorcyclists and killing one with his patrol car in August of 2010 may have been mishandled. On April 16, IMPD Sgt. Doug Huestis, the lead investigator in the David Bisard case, confirmed that a vial of the officer’s blood, tagged for examination for the presence of alcohol, had been left unrefrigerated for six months in an auxiliary IMPD property room. Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry said that evidence may be so degraded it will be useless in the trial. Ciesielski stepped down after the revelations. Deputy Chief Valerie Cunningham, who oversaw Professional Standards and the property room, was placed on administrative leave as was a lieutenant and a civilian supervisor. “The supervisory leadership needs to be upgraded a little bit, a little bit more hands on,” said the mayor.” When asked how high the supervisory failure reached, Ballard said, “I’m always worried about, ‘Are people looking at what’s happening below them?’ I’m always worried about that one.” When asked if anyone below him lost control of the investigation, Ballard said, “Clearly on that one, yes.” The mayor refuse to name which supervisor below him lost control of the case and referred to the previous news conference. Special Unit Investigators, working under the direction of a deputy public safety director, have questioned three investigators involved in the oversight of the Bisard blood vial and the IMPD property room to determine their control of the evidence and knowledge of its storage. Investigators are also reexamining the April 13 arrest of IMPD Officer Mort Gallagher who was discovered driving his patrol off duty reportedly under the influence of alcohol. During a recent council committee meeting, Dr. Straub referred to an officer who allegedly ignored Gallagher’s condition that night as an example of the corruption that he said has plagued Indianapolis police for 50 years. Straub’s renomination remains hung up in committee where councilors continue to seek budget information from his department. If the committee approves Straub’s nomination May 16, it would be passed on to the full council for approval. If the full council denies the nomination, Mayor Ballard has indicated Straub will still serve as his public safety director. Straub has denied Fox59 News reports, confirmed by several sources, that he is currently seeking another job.

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