Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Indianapolis Police Department In a No Win Situation - Changing Hiring Strategies

A writer writes!

An Indianapolis policeman was killed in the line of duty last Saturday.  The assailant and the policeman had contrasting lives.  The policeman was a Caucasian 20 year veteran of the Indianapolis police force.  He was married and enjoyed life with his wife through a variety of outdoor activities, some that allowed him to travel various parts of the world.  The assailant, a 25 year old Black man, initially was declared dead but was revived on the way to the hospital.  He had several criminal charges on his record dating back to when he was 16 years old.  There also was some mention that his father was involved with an incident with the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department (IMPD).  The family blamed IMPD for his father’s death.  

The Indianapolis Public Safety Director in an October 2013 interview noted that in a county that is 59 percent white, 84 percent of IMPD’s officers are white. Black residents make up 28 percent of the county’s population but only 13 percent of the police force.  Plus only 2 percent of police officers are Hispanic, a far cry fr om the population and a distressing number considering the unique challenges facing many Indianapolis Hispanic neighborhoods.

When the news displayed a photograph of the slain officer, I wondered if it would have mattered if Black policemen had been sent to the neighborhood where the deadly encounter occurred?  I grew up in the 1960s during a period when Black men were not treated well by White policemen.  I often heard about incidents where Black men were stopped for no reason, and mistreated because they were Black.  Some of that behavior still persists today.  In the 1970s I often heard reports on television news reports detailing statistics about the likelihood that the average Black man would die from violence before they reached the age of 30.  Television displayed the images of Rodney King being surrounded and beaten by several Los Angeles policemen.  Then the policemen were found not guilty of criminal charges regarding the incident.  Black male employment is much higher than that of White unemployment.  Those are some of the experiences and thoughts that Black men deal with.  Some of the images of the past mistreatment may fade away with time.  For now, those images and thoughts are still there.  There are other hurdles and societal barriers that Black men have to overcome to gain access to the same leveled playing field that others enjoy.

This is the background environment White policemen were sent into that Saturday night.  The odds of a conflict situation quickly escalating into violence should not have been surprising.  It was a setting for conflict.  A Black man for whatever reason carrying an armed weapon and White policemen with armed weapons.  Nighttime, a setting where understanding and respect are not at the forefront. There has been discussion that policemen servicing a community should culturally mirror the people whom they protect and serve.  In the case of the IMPD, the police force that responded that night was not in a position to keep peace.  Maybe as a minimum it is better to have predominantly policemen of the same race and culture as those they interact with.  I don’t have any statistics to back up that belief.  It would not hurt to see what would happen if the police responding to calls for help generally looked like those being policed.

I've heard comments on the news that twice the number of policeman hired this year are needed.  If I recall, the percentages of minorities is low among the 50 or so police recruits recently hired and now in training.  Sounds like these recruits will graduate the program and be cycled along with the current staff of police into future no win situations in Black neighborhoods in the heat and darkness of upcoming summers.

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