Hearing the voice of the professionals

Paul F. P. Pogue

Mayor Bart Peterson, City-County Council President Steve Talley and Sheriff Frank Anderson discuss the future of Indianapolis law enforcement at Friday's first meeting of the Consolidation Transition Authority.

Over the course of 18 months, as the public safety merger of Police and Sheriff's departments wound its way through the state Legislature, the media and the City-County Council, the primary question was, "What are the details?"

Similarly, the most frequent complaint voiced by opponents of the merger had to do with any number of unanswered questions.

What will the new beats be? How will the 420 deputies and 1,196 Indianapolis Police Department officers be shuffled, merged and reassigned? Is there really a "squiggly line" that arbitrarily separates the city beats from the county beats, as the mayor asserts, or is that line actually based on logical geographic cutoff points, as asserted by opponents of the merger? How will pension and benefits - including the unfunded pre-1977 police pensions - be affected? Will the city core be left undermanned as more officers are sent out to the townships? Will it really save millions of dollars? Even such minor issues as design of new uniforms and cars, not to mention the new department's name, remain to be addressed.

The answer to all these concerns has been, "We'll work it out as we go along." And that process began last week with the first meeting of the Consolidation Transition Authority, made up of Mayor Bart Peterson, Council President Steve Talley and Sheriff Frank Anderson. The first order of business - and the probable source of answers to many of those questions - is the appointment of two different advisory committees. The first, the Transition Advisory Committee, includes 15 members from IPD, the Sheriff's Office, the council, Fraternal Order of Police, city officials and a Marion County citizen. The second - and larger group - is the 43-member Steering Committee, including six members appointed by Anderson, six by IPD Chief Michael Spears, three by the Fraternal Order of Police and 14 each from IPD and the Sheriff's Department, selected by secret ballot from the police forces themselves.

"One of the reasons for creating those committees was to bring in the voices of law enforcement, the men and women in uniform who know best," Anderson said.

He also noted that he expected tensions between Police and Sheriff's departments to lessen as both groups get to the business of law enforcement. "I am convinced they will follow through," Anderson said. "You'll see those officers step up."

Peterson said that with the consolidated system, layoffs of police officers will not be necessary. He also believes that the yearly millions of dollars in savings predicted in the original Indianapolis Works proposal will still be seen, in the form of eliminating redundant squads, merging training facilities and other redundant costs. He also states that the elimination of duplicated administrative positions will free up more officers to patrol the streets. He noted that Indianapolis already has an advantage over other cities and counties seeking to merge, as certain facilities, such as the communications system, are already shared.

Despite all the work to be done, Peterson expressed confidence that the merger would be complete by the prescribed date of Jan. 1, 2007.

"I think that the work tends to expand to fill the space," Peterson said. "If we had five years, I'm pretty sure we'd end up taking five years to do this. We have one year, and I'm confident that we'll be ready in that time."

Full details of the merger ordinance, Prop. 627, can be seen at www.indygov.org/eGov/Council/Proposals/home.htm.