INDIANAPOLIS, IN During the embattled regime of former Public Safety Director Frank Straub, distrust was so rife within IMPD and the Department of Public Safety that a number of officers were wearing personal recording devices for their own protection.
Metro Police Chief Rick Hite, before he was the top cop, was surreptitiously taped by two officers facing a disciplinary investigation.
An officer’s personal tape recorder preserved internal departmental evidence when a lieutenant was caught in a compromising incident with a woman in a car early in the morning at a southside townhouse complex in 2011.
During the David Bisard trial in 2013, it was revealed that a sergeant in a special investigative unit secretly taped a deputy prosecutor taking about case strategy.
Those were the cases that convinced Hite to sign his name to General Order 9.18 last week banning IMPD officers from taping each other or other city employees without another’s knowledge:
“Members of IMPD shall not eavesdrop upon, or record by audio and/or video means, any conversation or communication of, with, or between, any other department member, supervisor, city employee, or law enforcement officer.”
“There have been a few incidents in the last several years of surreptitiously taping between members of the department internally and also external with other partners,” Major Dave Robinson told FOX59 News. “We want to get away from that. We want to get away from that mistrust, try to build the trust up among the members of the department as well as our law enforcement partners.”
“I think the mistrust was mostly rooted in the atmosphere of the time. These are different times, different leadership, and we’re hoping to put that all behind us.”
Straub engaged the services of an outside consultant at a cost of $75,000 to unravel one internal investigation.
“Frankly our concerns are concerned it could lead to a chilling effect within the police department of officers identifying if there ever really is a concern about any internal abnormalities,” said Lt. Rick Snyder, president of Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 86. “I think most people get that it’s critically important that some times things occur where an individual feels that process should be documented. A great example of that is what our police department is doing publicly with our citizens and visitors related to the use of body worn cameras. There is an outlined value of documenting those interactions and I guess the concern and the question is, ‘Why should it be different behind closed doors?’”
IMPD is currently in a pilot program to determine whether to equip its officers with body cameras and what policies would cover the retention and release of that evidence.
An officer was wearing a body camera on April 12 when Mack Long, a fleeing felon with a gun, died in a struggle with a patrolman over his weapon.
Ten days later Public Safety Director Troy Riggs and Hite attended a White House conference on police department transparency and openness.
The chief was later interviewed on CNN.
“I think it’s important to have video as a tool to do a couple of things,” said Hite. “Number one, to look at the incident and assess it and look at the actions of the officer.
“We have to be inclusive of our citizens in looking at our policies and being transparent. Honesty and trust is consistency over time in order to put chips in the bank of trust.”
Snyder pointed out that Indiana is a “one party” state, meaning such taping is legal if one of the participants is aware of the conditions.
“It’s just a little ironic at the very same time we’re pushing for full transparency in police departments and the value of recording interactions with citizens, at the same time we’re saying, ‘But it’s not allowed behind closed doors when you’re dealing with other members of the department or management,’” said Snyder.
Those closed door incidents could include disciplinary issues, sexual harassment attempts or conversations regarding corruption that would not take place out in the open or in front of witnesses.
“If it’s an officer who is going into a situation where she or he is going to be having a discussion with a supervisor that maybe is something the officer feels is going to be negative,” said Major Robinson, “he or she can certainly have another officer or supervisor present during that conversation to help document what took place.”
In an unrelated issue, Chief Hite has ordered all command-level officers to wear white uniform shirts to make it visibly apparent to officers and the public alike who is in charge at IMPD.
“IMPD Command Staff personnel have the responsibility of publicly leading from the front,” reads the department news release. “The citizens of Indianapolis have reasonably increased expectations of those in command level positions.”
An IMPD spokesman told FOX59 News that the department had already been contacted by a national news organization inquiring as to whether the change in uniform was in response to the unrest that has rocked Baltimore, the city where Hite himself served as an officer and commander for decades before arriving in Indianapolis.
The spokesman said the IMPD attire order was tied to a change in the department’s spring uniform calendar.