Council rejects cops consolidation

Paul F. P. Pogue

Sheriff Frank Anderson comments on the defeat of public safety consolidation after Monday night's City-County Council meeting.

It was a down to the wire moment more suited to Indianapolis sports than city politics. The vote board at Monday's City-County Council meeting read 14-14 for Proposition 471 - Mayor Bart Peterson's plan for police and sheriff consolidation.

It was a moment when everyone in the packed meeting room held their breath. Then click: 14-15, proposition does not pass. The room burst out with applause and a standing ovation, and another key element of Peterson's long-running consolidation plan, Indianapolis Works, stood defeated.

The vote went along party lines, with Democrat Sherron Franklin crossing over to vote against and turn the tide against the plan. Earlier this year, police and sheriff consolidation was one of the few elements of Indianapolis Works to make it through the General Assembly.

Public safety consolidation has been the most controversial element of Indianapolis Works ever since its inception. In January, the Fraternal Order of Police, made up of both police officers and sheriff's deputies, voted 97 percent against consolidation as outlined in the original Indy Works plan. The proposal received more support later on, particularly from Sheriff Frank Anderson, but remained a lightning rod for the program.

Anderson was a vocal critic of the original plan, and his support resulted in both a modified plan and a stronger base for the proposal.

"I've always tried to be someone who can reach across party lines and bring people together," Anderson said. "Every addition that was made to this was something that everybody wanted."

Councilman Philip Borst, speaking for the Republican caucus, outlined the party's reasons for opposition: The plan would result in decreased public safety, raise taxes in the townships, lower morale and would not bring about the savings Peterson claimed.

"I didn't do a good enough job selling this," Peterson said after the vote. "While I regret that, we have to pick up the pieces, go back to work tomorrow morning and try to figure out a way to pay for public safety. We're going to abide by the will of the council."

For many months Peterson has said that not merging could result in layoffs of police officers, but he did not give specifics Monday night.

"We're going to sit down and start working on how to play with the cards we've been dealt," Peterson said. "I've told people I'm not going to have some mass firing the day after this vote. There are a lot of different options. I didn't put a Plan B into effect here. I believed we were going to get this done. At the end of the day we have to figure out how to stretch our dollars and make law enforcement work. This is an opportunity to think differently about this. We've been looking at a merger this way for the last year and a half, and now maybe it's time to look at it a different way."

Though the future of public safety consolidation remains in doubt, Peterson said he intends to bring Fire Department and township office consolidation, the other main elements of Indy Works, back to the General Assembly next session.

As for where this particular issue is going next, nobody was sure Monday night. Perhaps the best summation came from two anonymous opponents of the bill as they walked out of the meeting.

"Well, that's over at last," one said.

"Nah," his companion replied. "We'll be back next year."

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