There has really only been one story in Indianapolis this past week: the death of one motorcyclist and the serious injury of two others because of an on-duty Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department officer, whom early evidence showed was intoxicated at the time.
And, despite the wishes of the mayor's office, the police department and the director of public safety, the story isn't going away anytime soon – a fact that could endanger several careers and is already eroding the always-fragile state of police-community relations.
The story seems to get worse with every new revelation. It was bad enough that a police officer killed an innocent victim. It's worse that none of the officers responding to the accident suspected alcohol as a cause.
And it's absolutely unthinkable that police officers would botch the handling of evidence rendering alleged proof of the officer's intoxication inadmissible in court.
Besides the considerable human tragedy, the incident also raises the unproven but widely suspected belief that police officers will do anything to avoid seeing one of their own prosecuted for anything.
Mayor Greg Ballard is trying to get in front of the story, saying in interviews that he's outraged by the affair. His public safety director, Frank Straub, has also been on full damage control, demoting three officers involved in the response to the accident.
Marion County Prosecutor Carl Brizzi, who hasn't had a very good year himself, dropped the alcohol-related charges on technical reasons – the test was administered by a lab technician not under the supervision of a doctor.
Rightly or wrongly, there is a widespread impression that police officers in this city can do whatever they want and get away with it. The civilian oversight of law enforcement is toothless. Unsurprisingly, internal investigations of the police department usually clear cops accused of wrongdoing.
While Ballard's public statements have been forceful and reasonable, he also seems to have shrugged his shoulders by effectively saying "there's always going to be a few bad apples" in every police department the size of our city's.
That's where I think he's wrong. We need our police to be absolutely above reproach. There isn't room for bad apples. And when cops are determined to be bad apples, they should receive 10 times the punishment of civilians for breaking the sacred trust of the police officer's oath.
There have been just too many bad apples over the years making headlines. Remember the drunken police riot through downtown in the 1990s, where officers allegedly screamed the N-word at innocent citizens?
What about the cop who had a downtown apartment where he'd have sex with prostitutes he'd picked up on duty? The list goes on and on. At this point, it seems like the local law enforcement community is about as upstanding as the gun-toting Indiana Pacers team of the mid-2000s.
Indianapolis is a forgiving city when it comes to innocent mistakes. If cops had been accused of accidentally punching a pedophile's teeth down his throat, well, accidents happen. If officers had been attacked by a mob and people got hurt, that's not unusual either.
But when a police officer, possibly intoxicated, mows down several citizens who were doing nothing more than minding their own business, that's when this city gets good and pissed off. It's going to be hard as hell to find an impartial jury in Marion County in this case, because every single person who knows about it is extremely angry.
The problem for IMPD is that probably well over 95 percent of officers do a heroic job each and every day. They care about the victims of crime and they're determined to make sure criminals get their due punishment under the law.
But, at least for the time being, people are going to wonder if the cop they're dealing with is drunk or sadistic or corrupt in some fashion. That's an unfair assumption to make – but I guarantee people are making that assumption right now.
Ballard, Straub and the rest of the administration are good men who are genuinely troubled by this tragedy. They need to continue insisting on justice without playing favorites, and to run all the bad cops off the force.
We need the protection of the police department too much to have this widespread distrust going on. The officers need the confidence of the people in order to do their jobs. That means the mayor and the police are going to have to go an extra mile to prove to us that they are not the bad apples we've heard so much about.