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Indianapolis city council ignores public again in police funding fight

by Noah Leininger

This article was first posted on Liberation News.

The Indianapolis Public Safety and Criminal Justice Committee approved Proposal No. 182 in its meeting June 9. The proposal will go before the full city council for a vote July 12. The proposal sets aside an additional $3.3 million for the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department; the city’s brand-new jail; the city IT agency, for police-related expenses; and for domestic violence reduction, mental health, and juvenile programs.

A total of $1.52 million is set aside under the proposal for new expenses for IMPD. Of this, $400,000 covers “data preparation and quality” to process data collected by IMPD officers during traffic and pedestrian stops, arrests and uses of force. Another $220,000 would pay for a “Chief Data Officer” and two analysts through the remainder of the year, with the strong implication that this would become a new, larger line item in IMPD’s bloated budget moving forward.

The argument presented by police officials was that doing so would allow the department to solve its many problems, which include a city facing record homicides, rampant community distrust of the police and an alarming growth in use of force against the people of Indianapolis.

Promised “early warning” program contradicts what IMPD told public in 2019

A computer app priced at $170,000 will analyze data harvested by police to provide an “early warning system.” This would alert supervisors to officers who call off sick too many days in a row or who use force outside of what IMPD sets as acceptable limits.

In 2019, then-Assistant Chief Randall Taylor told Liberation News that “[IMPD does] have an early warning system, but it’s really relatively new. I don’t believe it takes into account the race of the person [against whom IMPD officers use force].” According to police testimony in Wednesday’s meeting, IMPD does not currently have a functioning “early warning system.” The existing program was described by Deputy Chief Chris Bailey, who said, “Currently, we have a system that’s … more of a passive system. If there’s an incident where an officer uses a use of force, it’s not going to proactively tell us whether that’s the fourth or fifth time they’ve used one in the last two weeks or not.”

A “passive” system cannot be an “early warning system.” What would be the use of a smoke detector if, as someone’s house was burning down, they had to proactively make the detector sound the alarm?

Bailey went on to say that “every single use of force could be legitimate.” According to data from the city, only around 30 of the 15,000 times police use force on people each year on average are currently ruled “not in compliance” by IMPD. It stands to reason that IMPD will continue to treat what amounts to routine police abuses against Black Indianapolis as “in compliance” with policy.

Capitalist propaganda at odds with reality

Democratic councilor Jared Evans distilled the capitalist argument for the proposal behind a thin veneer of “clarifying” the police presentation. “You’re asking for technology to hold officers more accountable in their use of force. You’re asking for technology to pinpoint violence in micro-focus, which reduces police presence in other areas that are not needed. You’re asking for additional analysts to observe technology — cameras, LPRs [license plate readers], etc. — which can be used in prosecution to get murders resolved. Did I understand that all correctly?” When Bailey said that he had, Evans nodded and replied, “This is a good day, and I fully support this.” 

Unfortunately for this narrative, it does not fit with the facts. IMPD does not hold its officers accountable for their rampant and growing attacks on the public as it stands. There is little reason to believe that the only thing stopping IMPD from holding officers accountable is a lack of $1.5 million dollars in gear. The failure to resolve violent crime is not for a lack of resources or technology — IMPD receives $261.2 million from the city in the 2021 budget, one-fifth of the total.

According to IMPD’s own annual reports, the department’s Homicide Section resolved only 36% of homicides with an arrest between 2017 and 2019. Only 15% of robberies and 18% of aggravated assaults were solved in the same time frame. The most outrageous statistic is that IMPD only resolved 7% of crimes referred to the Sex Offense Section by arrest in those three years. Just 40% of child abuse cases and 48% of domestic violence cases were resolved with an arrest. Only the Juvenile Section cleared a majority of cases by this metric, with 50.6% resolved.

Adding more surveillance will not prevent crimes, and neither will ramping up targeted police harassment of communities based on previous incidents. Instead, police will continue to brutalize Black, Brown, and poor residents with ever-more ways to repress popular movements.

Public disapproval becomes outrage over Democratic-Republican political monopoly

During the committee meeting, Proposal 182 was the only agenda item that drew significant public comment. Several organizers with Indy10 Black Lives Matter, the Party for Socialism and Liberation, ANSWER Indiana, Queering Indy and Indy SURJ spoke in opposition to the proposal along with members of the community. Seventeen pages of additional comments opposed to Prop. 182, submitted online in response to a call to action initiated by Indy10, were read out loud by council staffers.

When one online comment referred to IMPD as “an ineffective, violent, thin-skinned gang,” two councilors rushed to interrupt to prevent such open anti-police rhetoric from being heard. Otherwise, councilors expressed clear disinterest during the reading of this testimony.

Following public testimony, Councilor Ethan Evans proposed an amendment that would have removed the $1.52 million in appropriations for IMPD and the city’s IT agency, keeping intact the $1.65 million earmarked for the jail and so-called community programming. Only three councilors voted in favor: Evans himself joined by Keith Graves and William Oliver, who mistakenly supported the amendment thinking he was casting a vote for the proposal as introduced. The remaining four Democrats on the committee — Dan Boots, Crista Carlino, Jared Evans, and committee chair Leroy Robinson — voted with all four Republicans to defeat the amendment.

With the amendment defeated, the original text of the proposal was accepted unanimously by all 11 councilors.

The struggle against capitalist violence continues

Although the proposal has been passed by the committee, which will recommend that the full Council also pass it, the struggle is not over. The struggle against police terror is a struggle against capitalism’s prioritization of private property rights over human rights. Our local government is not simply a government in the abstract, but an apparatus of and for the interests of the capitalist class. That class will not defund or abolish the police — to do so would be to act in the class interests of workers and the oppressed, instead of their fellow capitalists.

The Indianapolis City-County Council, under the monopoly control of the capitalist Democratic and Republican parties, fully intends to provide IMPD with this funding. They do not intend to make our communities safer, but to respond to the uprising last year with ever more tools for police to surveil and repress Black Indianapolis and protect private property, all behind a veneer of “data-driven policing.” What the data actually reveals to those who look is precisely what Indy’s capitalist class does not want you to hear: that IMPD is an ineffective, violent, thin-skinned gang.

Real public safety would mean ensuring that everyone in Indianapolis has nutritious food, a roof over their head, and dignified work that pays a living wage; it would mean funds going to support community needs like healthcare, childcare, and recreation without connections to the prison system. Real criminal justice would mean the cops who killed Dreasjon Reed, McHale Rose, and Ashlynn Lisby (who was pregnant) in the span of eight hours last May would be in prison; it would mean the release of hundreds of people held in jails without trial or for trumped-up offenses enforced by a racist system of prosecutors, judges, and prison guards.

The Indianapolis community is mobilizing to express its outrage over Proposal 182 as it moves forward. The Party for Socialism and Liberation is actively joining in that struggle. Real public safety and criminal justice can only come from the socialist revolution and Black liberation.