David Bisard, Eric Wells, Ben Hunter, etc.

Dateline: Thu 26 Aug 2010

The first thing that needs to be said: deepest condolences to the family and friends of Eric Wells, the motorcyclist who tragically lost his life while obeying the law, in what appears to be a case of alcohol-related reckless regard for human life by Officer David Bisard of the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department. Bisard, driving at a high rate of speed and intoxicated, plowed into Wells, killing him; two other people on motorcycles remain injured.

The second thing: what a christless mess....

Not too long ago, I innocently thought that IMPD had improved itself, that the rotten and corrupt force of the 1960s -- exposed then by the Indianapolis Star -- was nothing more than a bad memory. I believed today's officers were almost universally college graduates, as well as high-calibre individuals and dedicated community servants, with some exceptions. Alas, the death of Eric Wells, as the result of a high-speed drunken-driving accident caused by Officer David Bisard, and the subsequent coverup right at the scene by IMPD brass, has put IMPD in an entirely different light.

Former IMPD Officer Ben Hunter -- now a Republican City-County Council member and head of the Butler University Police -- is quoted in today's Star: "This is a two-decades-old problem," referencing the troubled culture within IMPD. "People  have treated the symptoms but not the root cause. There needs to be a shift to raise the bar," says Hunter, who was with IMPD 11 years.

Hence he and City-County Council President Ryan Vaughn are proposing, among other reforms, that applicants to IMPD would have 60 college hours; that only college graduates could be promoted; and that IMPD should seek national accreditation.

Well and good. Finally, someone has some concrete ideas.

Because, the truth is, recent troubles with IMPD are piling up; we're not talking isolated incidents here. We've endured the beating earlier this summer of Brandon Johnson, an Eastside youth, a case that appears to have racial overtones (and resulted in the firing of the officer involved, although that is being appealed); a SWAT officer who was in a hit-and-run with his off-duty vehicle; and, in the not too far distant past, officers sent to prison for drug trafficking.

To their credit, friends, family and community activists connected to these two most recent cases (Wells and Johnson) have created a huge stink. They have demanded attention, and they are getting it. although not necessarily from the highest levels -- which is part of the problem.

Some of this is political football.

I agree with Wells' supporters that Mayor Greg Ballard should address the concerns raised by the Wells' family; I think he should visit with them in their home and express his deepeset sympathy. I know that's not legally savvy, but to hell with that. The truth is, the mayor could do far more good than harm by reaching out.

As for calls for the new public safety director Frank Straub to resign: pure politics.  Total bullshit.

What is real, however, and not political, is that IMPD has a problem. I've heard it anecdotally for years from friends -- that there are plenty of cops out there on our streets with bad attitudes. Teen-age boys and males in general especially seem to draw the ire of officers with short fuses; that, too, needs to be addressed. No more bullying.

All this needs to be talked about, and most of all, IMPD needs to be fixed. Kudos to Hunter and Vaughn for at least starting the dialogue in that process.




hendy [Member] said:

There are two basic problems here, and neither get benefit from college hours.

First, one drunken officer killed a guy and critically injured pair of cyclists. What does college have to do with *that*? Secondly, the FOP has been criticized as second-class citizens, beating against the wall for a contract. One of their members decides to hit-and-run, then fixes the car on the side. College doesn't help that, either. College doesn't raise the bar, change the accountability, or give community input to public safety. Whew. Ok. I'm taking a deep breath.

What helps the situation? Discipline. A HUGE civil settlement where the dirtied evidence CAN be used against the officer in question. Guess who's going to pay for that one? You guessed it. Will that force a change?

We have part-time officers that help. But what of the insular culture? What of the priorities? What of the housing project and school and other police 'sects' we have, all under the Sheriff's Office? Private cops and security flourish here. Why? All right; I'll take my chill pill and step away from the computer.

2010-08-26 13:57:16

OINK [Member] said:

I have never noticed a college degree being a hindrance to doing dumb shit.

A bunch of experienced cops could not spot a drunk with at least twice the legal blood alcohol?

Am I wrong in thinking it's SOP to test the driver in a fatal accident?

2010-08-26 15:26:46

rick wilkerson [unverified] said:

Agreed that while change is clearly in order, a college education probably is not the right prescription.

By coincidence, I watched a Frontline on WFYI last night that dealt with New Orleans PD in the Katrina aftermath. A cop shot a looter with an assault rifle. Instead of helping the injured man, other cops beat him up and made sure he died. Then they burned the car and body well beyond recognition. The case is just now solved after 5 years. One ex cop talked about how most of the cops always carried a sanitized handgun that could be used to plant on an innocent in case a fellow officer did something wrong. They called the gun a "ham sandwich"...

The incidents are different, but the cover-up strategy is similar. Protect our own, at all costs.

Destroying this insular attitude is to me, at the center of the solution.

2010-08-26 15:58:10

joe stuteville [unverified] said:

If I recall right, it was Dick Cady and Bill Anderson who led an investigative series on police corruption that earned the Star a Pulitzer in 1975.

2010-08-27 06:50:59

sjudge [unverified] said:

The truth may well be that the only people who survive very long without stress related problems in IMPD are those who get behind a desk and stay there. Ten years on the street will wear down anyone and there's little wonder drinking problems arise. There's nothing wrong, except the price tag, with requiring more education to get into IMPD, but as Indy becomes much more of a typical large urban city, we do need to figure out how to get folks off the street quicker.

2010-08-27 07:42:50

Tell The Truth [Member] said:

All good comments--and obviously well-thought.

The desk-duty comment struck me the most. If an officer gets street fatigue at any time, (s)he should be able to rotate off and assume another duty with less stress. Hell, we don't send combat soldiers into battle for ten straight years.

Whatever the street-fatigue issue, we ought to spend time and money on officers' mental health issues. They work hard to protect us and obviously the good ones (and some bad ones) feel the constant pressure. I can't imagine what that's like, but I appreciate their work.

That's what makes these recent incidents so maddening. A few bad apples are either: a) part of a "bad culture" or b) spotty, rare. Perhaps a hybrid of both.

I know the new chief. He is taxpayer-focused and a community policework advocate. We've lived through the Winston Churchills and bad chiefs in the past...let's give this guy a chance.

I don't know about Straub. Honestly, I don't understand why we have a Public Safety Director. Every division he oversees has a chief...why can't those chiefs report directly to the mayor? His salary, benefits, secretary, car, etc., are almost 200 larg.e In tough budget times, I can't support that expenditure. If Ballard weighed in regularly with those division chiefs he might get info without a filter.

Lastly, regarding Ballard: he won a close race because Democrats were not universally on-board with the Peterson program. There was no sense of urgency for his third term, and he lost. Ballard didn't win. This city doesn't elect Republicans city-wide, absent a Brizzi-type media blitz. The base Democratic vote is almost 60% now.

And with almost every serious challenge he's faced, I come back with a couple of take-aways regarding our mayor:

He obviously likes the perks, and he's clueless.

Gone in 18 months. No doubt.

In the meantime, IMPD needs our help, our prayers and our support, but it shouldn't be blind support. Councillors like Vaughan and Hunter do too, but I hope they dial in the other side of the aisle and somehow, can we please keep the IMPD issue focused on the facts?

Bravo, also, to Methodist Revs. Harrison and Hamilton, who were called in yesterday to counsel with Ballard & Co. Those ministers havhe both earned their activist stripes, and they're quiet, effective SoulMen.
May their tribe multiply.

2010-08-27 08:41:45

CrossedWires [unverified] said:

Police cover up? - throw away gun? Flash back to 1987 and the Michael Taylor death. Rumor on the street at the time was that the gun used was a throw away gun, and the reason was that Mr. Taylor was known to frequent gay bars at the time, which had more of a stigma with the police then, than they do now. Told to me by officers that worked out at the Natatorium.

2010-08-27 08:45:46

Marycatherine Barton [unverified] said:

The remarkable Frank Serpico (who coined the word 'lamplighters', signifying Paul Revere's populist patriotism, to replace the word 'whistleblowers'} went as far in his testimony before the Knapp Commission, to say that his fellow police officers with college degrees, felt more entitled to engaging in corrupt activities, for their own benefit. He is now retired, and Frank
Serpico.com is inspiring, as are his scary book and movie, SERPICO.

Thanks for sharing what you have learned, and your indignation, Ruth. Christless, indeed. I have always called for the formation of an independent Citizen Review Board, with full investigatory tools, including subpoenas, and enforcement powers, over the police in the matter of police brutality complaints.

All the comments were also helpful. Have a great Sunday.

2010-08-29 15:55:58

Bill [unverified] said:

Re: Michael Taylor,whatever became of officer Charles F. Penniston? Is he still with the department?

2010-09-01 03:51:37

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