Mayor announces IMPD reforms

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Jeremy Brilliant/Eyewitness News

Indianapolis - Mayor Greg Ballard says the city's police department needs to change, starting with some new rules.

Ballard spoke to several hundred people Saturday afternoon on the south side of Indianapolis before the start of the Miracle Mile Parade on Madison Avenue. Before announcing policy changes, the mayor took a moment to reflect on the crash that sparked the latest investigation.

"I'd like to pause for a moment of silence in the memory of Eric Wells and to place Kurt Weekly, Mary Mills and their families in our thoughts and in our prayers," Ballard said.

Officer David Bisard, the IMPD patrolman who caused the fatal accident August 6, was never mentioned by name. He faces felony charges in connection with the crash that killed Wells and has left the two other riders hospitalized. DUI-related charges were dropped after it was discovered that proper procedure was not followed for the blood draw, which determined that Bisard's blood alcohol content was .19 two hours after the crash.

It was clear the mayor is making changes in light of the crash and the fallout from it.

"We must use this tragedy to refocus our energies on a better police department and a better Indianapolis," Ballard said. "Civilian trust is essential and trust has been badly shaken. I am committed to restoring trust and public safety is the number one job of my administration."

The police has been dealing with several incidents that have angered the public this year, including the botched investigation into Officer Bisard. Other cases have also caused some community leaders to call for change, including the beating arrest of a 15-year-old boy earlier this summer. One officer involved in that case was fired for using excessive force. Another IMPD officer is facing felony charges for firing a gun during a domestic dispute.

Public Safety Director Frank Straub announced a new initiative to improve policies and training last week. On Saturday, the mayor outlined several steps that will be taken to reform some policies of IMPD.

Breathalyzers will be used at the scene of any crash involving an officer that results in bodily harm. The policy of officers not being allowed to purchase alcohol while in uniform will be extended to a ban of alcohol being transported in marked or unmarked police vehicles. Officers will not be allowed to consume alcohol within eight hours of the beginning of their shift.

Ballard went on further to say that there will be a 'zero tolerance policy' toward alcohol use while officers are duty and that it is the duty of officers to report suspected substance abuse.

"What the mayor said is good. They all need to be done," said Police Chief Paul Ciesielski. "Policy first, practice, training, that will all make us a better police department."

When Ballard was elected, he ran on a platform of making public safety job one. Now, he says his most important job is restoring the public's trust in the police department. The new rules and regulations at IMPD are part of making that happen.

"This is just the beginning. This whole process is just that, it's a process that's going to take time," Straub said.

While much needs to change, the mayor said IMPD is making great strides, reducing violent crime by 13 percent and cutting the homicide rate to the lowest it has been in two decades.

"The vast, vast majority of the officers that wear the IMPD uniform never make the headlines," Ballard said. "They never make the headlines, unless it's because of an act of bravery, or that they've made that ultimate sacrifice for all of us."

Officials are hoping the focus will shift to laws being enforced instead of those enforcing them. The public safety director says more policy changes will be announced in the coming weeks. IMPD is also in the process of re-writing its general orders.

Mayor Ballard plans to speak again at the "Ride for Justice" benefit in Pendleton Sunday. The ride will benefit the victims of the August 6 crash.

Registration for the event starts at 7 am at American Legion Post 117 in Pendleton, the mayor will speak at 9 am and the ride will start at 10 am.

FOP reacts to reforms

The Fraternal Order of Police responded to the new policy announcements Saturday afternoon.

"I think this will go a long way in restoring the public confidence, I truly do," said FOP President Bill Owensby.

Owensby went on to say the reforms announced by the mayor are a slap in the face to his members. He says for one, the department already has a zero-tolerance policy for alcohol and drugs while on duty and for another, it is common sense.

"We are feeling a little beat up, I'm not going to lie to you," Owensby said. "I think today's announcement, while some would find it earth-shattering, others will see it as 'too little, too late,' but overall, I think it is a step in the right direction."

The biggest issue in the eyes of the FOP is training officers and supervisors to see trouble before it becomes front page news.

"We need to change, we need to keep moving forward and I'm committed to doing that with the mayor," Straub said.

Straub says that will require a systematic change in the way business is conducted at IMPD, or with who is running the department.

"I do refuse to resign and the mayor has not asked me to resign and the calls are coming from a very small, select group of people," Straub said.

The mayor is expected to announce more reforms in the coming weeks.