Bisard ordeal brings change to IMPD

IMPD is offering more help to assist troubled officers.
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Former IMPD officer David Bisard is back in a Marion County jail a day after he was sentenced to 13 years in prison for causing a deadly crash three years ago while driving drunk. He will be back in court on December 17 for a hearing on a separate DUI charge stemming from a crash this past April.

As a result of the August 2010 tragedy, IMPD is making changes intended to help more police officers get the help they need and don't become victims of bigger problems.

Soon, sergeants and lieutenants will be trained to watch over their subordinates. New computer software will track citizen complaints and other minor incidents involving officers, both man and machine, looking for small problems that could be symptoms of more serious issues.

"All of them have stressful jobs," said Public Safety Director Troy Riggs. "All may help in their career."

Before Bisard was a convicted felon, he was an exemplary and decorated police officer. He was the first patrolman to access the Hovey Street murder scene in 2008, where two mothers and their babies were executed.

Two years later, Bisard shot and killed a heavily-armed robbery suspect, saving another officer's life. A week after accepting IMPD's Medal of Valor, its second highest commendation, Bisard was speeding and drunk when his patrol car crashed into a group of motorcyclists, killing one and critically injuring two others.

At sentencing, witnesses described an officer tormented, unable to cope, abusing alcohol and repeatedly passing up opportunities for help.

Police officers are trained to be smart and strong, careful and courageous. Showing weakness, asking for help, is not part of the curriculum, not part of the culture.

"They don't like to show weakness and when they do show weakness, others hold that against them," Riggs explained.

Since the fatal crash, IMPD has increased its efforts to get cops help they need.

"We're taught not to trust people. Oftentimes we get hurt," said Lt. Don Hofmann.

Hofmann helped start a special unit of ranking officers and patrol officers who offering assistance acting as peers not supervisors or bosses. It's an effort aimed giving police what he calls emotional survival.

"We're not going to try to fire you. We're not going to reassign you. We want to get your assistance before the issue blows up to something unmanageable." Hofmann said.

Training supervisors and computer tracking will start next year for police, fire and other emergency services.

The effort to expand the IMPD Officer Wellness Program appears to be succeeding. The numbers of officers referred there for disciplinary problems is down. We're told the number of officers now voluntarily seeking help is "going through the roof."