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Monday, April 30, 2012

Attention Focuses on Continuing PD Reform, Without Politics

Experts weigh in on finding a replacement for Indy's public safety director 
The Star by Tim Evans and John Russell  -  April 29, 2012
What should Indy look for in a replacement for Straub?  Experts weigh in on finding someone with the right stuff -  As director of public safety, Frank Straub often encountered opposition to proposed reforms. Experts say that Straub's work may have paved the way for meaningful reforms down the road.

Indianapolis, IN - With Friday's announced resignation of Frank Straub, the city's embattled public safety director soon will be gone. But the reason he was brought here -- to implement serious and necessary reform to the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department -- is still very much a priority. So what should Mayor Greg Ballard do? First, he might want to ponder a host of other difficult questions: What lessons can be learned from the Straub experience? How can you create consistent and effective leadership at the top of the police organization? How do you sincerely acknowledge, yet not be undermined by, political, public and internal pressures? And, perhaps most significantly, how do you push reform in the context of an entrenched police culture resistant to change and clearly distrustful of outsiders? The Indianapolis Star posed those questions to various national experts in police reform. While they did not entirely agree on every answer, there was general consensus on some issues: Meaningful reform almost certainly will need to be driven by someone from the outside. The city should take a hard look at the role of the public safety director and ensure that role doesn't diminish the authority of the police chief. The city should welcome the police union and community leaders into the process to create buy-in and earn respect from both the public and the police rank and file. The city needs to find someone with a sincere willingness to reform, but with a less abrasive personality than Straub. Michael S. Scott, a clinical professor at the University of Wisconsin Law School, said the community should consider one more thing: patience. Creating meaningful change, Scott said, is a difficult, often slow and painful process. That will be particularly true with the challenges IMPD faces as it tries to move beyond a legacy of officer misconduct, racial tensions, corruption convictions and a revolving door in the chief's office. And there is another obstacle that must be overcome: IMPD has scant history of leadership or input from outside its own close-knit ranks, a shortcoming exposed by the controversy that surrounded Straub's arrival and push for reforms. But even given those factors, the experts told The Star that meaningful reform is possible.

Invite folks to the table Allowing the community to be deeply involved in the effort, rather than leaving it solely to city officials or national experts, could help the process, said Samuel Walker, a professor of criminal justice at the University of Nebraska and a longtime advocate of citizen oversight of police. Walker said the mayor should consider assembling a task force to examine the underlying issues. The task force, he said, could include lawyers, church leaders, educators and neighborhood leaders. "The most important thing to take a look at," Walker said, "is what the real problems are before you bring in someone to fix them." Ballard said Straub will stay on as public safety director until August, helping with the process of selecting his replacement. The police union, for its part, said it hopes to have some voice in the transition. "We remain committed to assist in this process if allowed to do so," Bill Owensby, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 86, said in a statement. "We look forward to working with the mayor, the City-County Council and the police department's leadership to make a great department even better through meaningful improvements." Scott, who is a former police chief and officer, said striking the right balance of power between the union and department leadership is crucial. They must work together, he said, not against each other. "A very strong union that essentially dictates what it wants obviously turns basic management principles on their head," Scott said. "That is not a sign of a healthy relationship." On the other hand, Scott said, police management has to treat the union not as an enemy or adversary, but as a collaborative partner. When he was an officer in Madison, Wis., Scott said, the chief made the union president a part of the management team. He said that countered feelings of distrust and powerlessness. Examine the role Indianapolis is required by state and local law to have a public safety director, but the role that person plays can -- and has -- varied greatly. Straub, for instance, played a much more visible and forceful role than most of his predecessors. "I've never been a big fan of the public safety director model. I believe it unnecessarily complicates the process," Scott said. "It builds into the system a great deal of uncertainty over who is running the organization. . . . At the same time, you can end up with a chief perceived (by rank and file) as weak. It creates a lot of uncertainty about accountability." Scott said the city needs to be careful that in its quest for a public safety director that it does not neglect the need for a police chief that has not only the ability but also the authority to lead change. "A strong chief position," he continued, "is absolutely essential for reform and competent management of a police department." But Scott also said that for a chief to have true independence would require changing the system in Indianapolis. The public safety director is appointed by the mayor, which creates a built-in political instability in that position and, by extension, that of the chief. Scott said reform is easier to achieve in places such as California and Wisconsin. "Both states," he said, "have made deliberate and conscious decisions to enact laws that insulate the chief from local, partisan politics. They give the chief a degree of tenure to transcend whoever is holding political office." That approach, he said, has led to apolitical, competent, fair and relatively corruption-free departments. Look outside Scott and other experts think there is merit in looking outside the department for leadership, particularly if officials are truly committed to a culture change. "Imagine a Fortune 500 company that only hires its CEO from within," Scott said. "You instantly limit the pool of talent and almost guarantee you will not get the best person." Another advantage of hiring from the outside, Scott said, is that it tends to reduce politics in the process. Internal candidates, Scott said, might be more focused on creating political allies based on who they already know in the city in positions of power and influence. An outsider who is not solely beholden to a mayor or council, he said, is much more likely to focus on law enforcement ideas and proposals. "To be a chief," Scott said, "you have to know more than just the names" of the local council members or power brokers.

If the chief appointment does become political, he observed, it pretty much ensures the governance of the police department also will be political. Andrew J. Scott, a former police chief in Boca Raton, Fla., who now runs a law enforcement consulting firm, said new police leadership likely will face huge pressures and pushback at almost every turn, from the police union to elected leaders to the public. Dealing with that pressure may be easier, he said, for someone from outside the department with no allegiances, personal ties or other baggage to work around. Scott, who is not related to the Wisconsin law professor, suggested that officials may want to consider looking outside the department for more than just the public safety director and police chief. He said the new leaders will need help from key managers who are on the same page and also not burdened by existing relationships or biases. Alan Kalmanoff, executive director of the Institute for Law & Policy Planning and professor at the University of California-Berkley, agrees. "Of course you need someone from the outside," Kalmanoff said, "if you have a corruption problem." Officials also may want to look outside for another type of help, he said. Enlisting the aid of a state or federal agency to investigate problems within the department can help expedite a culture change. The outside review can help leaders identify unacceptable or illegal conduct and ferret out bad apples. It also shows that leaders are serious about making real improvements. Find the right fit Straub brought a hard-charging East Coast approach to reforming the police department -- a blunt, my-way-or-the-highway push that didn't sit well with many. Even his staunchest supporters and champions of reform say that too often the conversation in the community has been about Straub the person and not the substance of his reform efforts. "If you are coming in as an outside reformer and you have an abrupt and abrasive and challenging personality, one can only expect the tenure is going to be short," explained Michael Scott, the Wisconsin law professor. That is not to say that whoever becomes the next public safety director and chief should be passive or coddling. "It's going to take (guts) and the ability to build credibility within the community," said Kalmanoff, of the Institute for Law & Policy Planning. Kalmanoff also thinks it will take someone with urgency. Unlike Scott, he is not convinced reform has to take a long time. In fact, he said, moving quickly is important because reformers typically have only a small window of opportunity. "If you don't move quickly," Kalmanoff said, "the underground forces that led to all the problems will eventually get you. You can't string things out." But there also is reason for some optimism. Ballard's desire to have Straub play an important role in selecting a successor sends a strong message to the IMPD and the community that the mayor remains committed to reform. And while Straub's tenure certainly didn't go as some hoped, the work he has done so far also might make the job of his successor a little easier. "He at least got a process moving," Scott explained, "even if he didn't survive long enough to see the fruits of his labor." Call Star reporter Tim Evans at (317) 444-6204 and follow him on Twitter @starwatchtim.

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