The resignation of Indianapolis Public Safety Director Frank Straub is concerning. Straub was brought in to reform the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department and enhance its standards. He had a fight on his hands before he ever landed in Indianapolis. The news of his departure is depressing. Not because it’s Frank Straub but because it is someone bent on reform and making the police department better. It’s because he was fought on every front for every battle. “Straub was up against a decades old bureaucracy and a political mindset that for too long has kept new policing strategies and higher standards at bay,” Matt Tulley writes for the Indianapolis Star. “He’s taken criticism for problems he inherited and for insisting on better use of data, and his departure shows that it is often easier to do nothing of substance than it is to demand much-needed changes.”
Straub faced some noted hostility when he arrived for the job. The Fraternal Order of Police immediately took an adversarial position. Hoosiers, who are normally distrustful of anything originating from outside Indiana’s state lines weighed as well against the “New Yorker.” Straub was not a good speaker by Indiana standards, his words and east coast style had an air of arrogance and as Tully points out, “his words sometimes came back to hurt him.” There is no question that the David Bisard case was Straub’s undoing. Bisard was an on duty Indianapolis police officer who crashed his patrol car into a group of motorcycles at more than 70 m-p-h while allegedly having a .19 BAC. The ensuing investigation, by the IMPD, was so grossly mishandled that it resulted in minimal charges being filed against Bisard. It doesn’t help that the FOP has rallied to Bisard’s defense.
Police work is difficult and inherently dangerous. I have often said that cops are under-praised, woefully underpaid and often misunderstood. It doesn’t help though when they, through one of their own, betray the public trust. Cops need and deserve respect but respect is earned. While 99% of any police force can be trusted, there will always be some bad eggs. I am drawn to a Facebook comment that I read earlier today. “From the police point of view,” the post says, “how would it feel to constantly be stereotyped and bashed by the media and members of the public for something a co-worker did?”
It would suck but the words “constantly stereotyped and bashed” by the media and members of the public shows a siege mentality. Us against them. It doesn’t have to be that way. Recognizing that David Bisard killed someone, while definitely negligent and probably drunk, speak out loudly and compassionately as a police force and as human beings. How would you feel if someone ran over a family member while drunk and killed them and that person’s employee union rallied to their defense. Perception is reality.
When it comes to addressing fundamental problems in the police department, after years of scandal and trouble, being too cautious with your words can lead to yet more complacency. When it comes to making a community safer, you need the type of urgency and frustration Straub often exhibited. While the Indianapolis Police Department is filled with outstanding public servants, that doesn’t mean the system they operate under does not need reformed but reform must come without demeaning the rank in file officers whose job is public safety and who perform their duties above reproach. Indianapolis, like all cities, has it’s share of bad eggs but it’s about how they are dealt with.
Tully writes that “it’s a shame. But after years of constant criticism from insiders and partisans, Straub is making the right move — for himself and for the city. He deserves to walk away from what has become a political mess and take his reformer’s message somewhere that is more welcoming. Even though the public turmoil is largely not his fault, it’s best for the city that a new leader comes in without the baggage that has been accumulated.” “Let’s hope that Mayor Greg Ballard doesn’t show shaky knees as he selects a replacement. He’s often said he is “not a politician,” so he shouldn’t do what a politician would — that is, select a new director who is fearful of challenging the status quo.”
“The only good news is that there is likely a higher tolerance for police reform in the city than there was when Straub arrived. Even if the new director is not as forceful as he has been, that leader likely will be an improvement on many of Straub’s forgettable predecessors. The bar is higher now. The next person will need to be more cautious with what he or she says, and how it’s said, but there is no reason that the underlying strategy implemented under Straub should change.” “Police standards must be higher. The police force must be more diverse. The system must be focused intently on spotting and attacking crime trends more quickly. The outreach to the community by the department must be more intense. These are things that Straub has been obsessed with since his arrival.”
Ultimately, it’s worth remembering that Ballard was re-elected last year despite constant criticism of Straub from the police union and Democrats. The voters of Indianapolis, if not the politicians and the union, made clear their approval of the work Straub was doing which makes it incumbent upon the Mayor and the Police Department to continue this work.