INDIANAPOLIS -- Seven members of the Indianapolis City-County Council held an unscheduled press conference Thursday to call for city leaders to listen to those affected by ongoing divisions between the community, rank-and-file IMPD officers and department leadership.
The call for “addressing the mutual barriers to trust” came exactly a week after a controversial decision by the IMPD Civilian Police Merit Board to clear two officers of wrongdoing in the fatal shooting of Aaron Bailey in June 2017.
Council President Vop Osili was joined by four other Democrats – William Oliver, Joe Simpson, Monroe Gray and LaKeisha Jackson – for the press conference outside City Market. Two Republican councilors, Marilyn Pfisterer and Scott Kreider, were also in attendance.
“We hear calls for the council to engage in a way that perhaps it hasn’t before to address the mutual barriers to trust – our residents’ trust in our police department and our officers’ trust in our residents – and to do it in a way that is actionable, measurable and brings together people from all sides of these issues,” Osili said.
“We understand that, like it or not, Indianapolis is now part of a national conversation about tensions between law enforcement and communities of color. This is bigger than just us – it is a complex set of issues without a simple solution – but we believe in this city and know that we are up to the task. And we can get this right.”
Osili stressed that he felt it was important that city and IMPD leadership “be quiet” and listen to what community members and, particularly, rank-and-file officers have to say about how they are feeling.
Republican Minority Leader Michael McQuillen, who was not in attendance, tweeted a message encouraging dialogue and expressing his confidence in the existing system while the conference was taking place.
The men and women of @IMPDnews are among our city’s heroes, a #ThinBlueLine protecting our families and our community. Their job requires split second decisions that determine whether they go home to their families at night. I am proud to stand with them.
All life is precious, because all life comes from God. Indy Welcomes All. Indy Protects All. We must continue to encourage dialogue and understanding among our neighbors and our brave men and women in blue.
No representatives from IMPD or the mayor’s office were present – and even two council members not in attendance told RTV6 they were not informed beforehand about the press conference.
In the wake of last week’s decision, Mayor Joe Hogsett has called for changes to the Merit Board’s structure. While Osili said there may be some changes he would support – staggered terms for board members, for example – he said he didn’t believe any of those changes would have changed the outcome in the Aaron Bailey case, and also that he didn’t think that should be the city’s focus moving forward.
“There are bigger issues and bigger ways that we need to address the issues that we talked about just now, and that has to do with trust,” Osili said. “And the Merit Board is outside of that, to be frank. I think we have far deeper, far more compelling and far more detailed and complex issues that have got to be addressed. There is not one little silver bullet that is going to make a difference.”
In effort to facilitate conversations about those issues, Osili said the council will be announcing “the first of what will likely be many community conversations” within the next 10 days. He repeatedly stressed that the intention of those conversations was not for city leaders to tell police how to do their jobs.
“It’s not me or members of the council telling law enforcement what they need to be doing,” Osili said. “It is making sure that we are silent and listening to what rank-and-file members of law enforcement, and what members of our community, say to us, ‘This would make a difference.’”
Indianapolis Fraternal Order of Police President Rick Snyder, who has been a vocal critic of IMPD Chief Bryan Roach and Hogsett in the wake of the Merit Board’s decision, applauded Osili in a statement issued shortly after the conference concluded:
“We applaud the words of our Council leaders today. Their focus is on proactively moving forward not looking backward while building trust and respect between our community and the rank and file of the police department.
Our collective organization of the Indianapolis Fraternal Order of Police looks forward to participating in robust public discussions and solutions to help move our community forward.
Council President, Vop Osili, makes a key point that the focus should not be on changing the merit board system.
We want to thank our Indianapolis Council for their bipartisan focus on a nonpartisan issue...the health, wellbeing and safety of our residents, visitors AND our law enforcement officers.
We only wish that our Mayor could have set this tone immediately following the Merit Board Decision. Instead his words led to division. We are hopeful the Mayor will reconsider his position and join all of us in positively moving forward.”
Councilor Marilyn Pfisterer, one of two Republicans present at the conference, said she hasn’t spoken with all of her caucus but believes the community conversations are necessary for Indianapolis to achieve “understanding.”
“Understanding both on the part of the community and on the part of the police department,” Pfisterer said. “The officers, quite often, do not get to say how they feel about things or how they are reacting to what’s going on. As someone said, the decision last week was about two particular police officers who have been a catalyst for this whole discussion. There’s a very, very broad police department – that is as diverse as the community is – and think we need to listen to what they have to say and not come with preconceived ideas.”
The councilors did not announce a date for the first community conversation, although they said they hoped for it to take place at Kennedy-King Park.