INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — A scathing report released Friday detailed the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department’s ability to respond to civil unrest in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd.
The report says IMPD lacked planning, coordination and communication for the magnitude of the protests in the last weekend of May. The tension on the streets of Indianapolis could be felt in every corner of the city.
A lack of communication is the first item addressed in the report, which says IMPD had intelligence that something would happen over the weekend.
“Based on interviews with IMPD leadership it seems little if any actual planning took place,” the report stated. “In addition to the lack of a strategic plan, there were multiple communication issues that caused difficulties in responding in a coordinated fashion.”
IMPD Deputy Chief Josh Barker told I-Team 8 the department was making changes on the fly. “We shifted our strategy to try and understand the objectives of the demonstrators downtown, adjust our efforts to help facilitate that safe environment for those gatherings to occur. We were constantly trying to measure what the results of those changes (were).”
The report says the appearance of officers in riot gear sent the wrong message to many of those peacefully protesting. “Along with what was perceived as military-style weapons, (IMPD) created the perception of an aggressive police posture from the onset,” the report says.
Basic information from IMPD’s command staff was not getting to the officers on the front lines of the riots. The report says, “No clear instructions given to those in the field.”
A few members of the command staff told the review panel that too few supervisors were on the streets to provide direction to front-line officers who “Were generally left to make tactical decisions on their own in a chaotic situation.”
“I agree with the report,” Barker said. “There is a large section of our community who are upset with the response and police tactics used that weekend, but as a police executive who has been working to make sure we don’t make those same mistakes again over the last nine months, there is an equal number of members of our community that is equally upset with IMPD because they feel like we didn’t do anything to help them.”
Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett had been criticized for not setting a curfew earlier in the weekend. The report states that Gov. Eric Holcomb’s executive order in relation to the public health emergency would have inadvertently prohibited Hogsett from issuing a curfew order. “That state executive order had to be amended quickly over the weekend to permit the curfew order at the city level,” the report says.
The report also says the communication problems that plagued the weekend led to misunderstandings with multiple agencies, the public and those peacefully protesting. The report also says the department’s large-crowd-response unit is really better-suited to crowds such as the Indianapolis 500 or the Indiana State Fair.
The report was from a three-person Response Review Committee: Deborah J. Daniels, an attorney at Krieg DeVault LLP and former U.S. Attorney and U.S. Assistant Attorney General; Myra C. Selby, partner at Ice Miller LLP and former associate justice of the Indiana Supreme Court; and Sean L. Huddleston, president of Martin University.
Reaction to the report
Community activist James C. Wilson is the chief executive officer of Circle Up Indy, a nonprofit that provides services for youths and families in Indianapolis. Wilson was on the ground during those nights of protest in May. He read the independent review panel’s report about IMPD’s response to the protests. “In the entirety, yeah, I think the report is extremely accurate and very direct and straightforward, and resolution base was pretty direct as well.”
The report says, while the vast majority of people in attendance were peaceful, opportunists admittedly in the crowd and took advantage of the chaos to commit crimes and cause damage to Downtown businesses.
“I think that is extremely accurate. The majority of people that were there were there for a peaceful protest. You had agitators come into the crowd to try to make it look like it was all us and it wasn’t fair,” Wilson told News 8. “Because what I seen was, you see some individuals and a lot of them wasn’t Black. If you look on my Facebook page, you see the white girl taking a brick and slamming it straight into the Huntington’s (Bank) window. You see the bricks dropped off downtown. We didn’t decide to do that. We didn’t decide to do damage, but we’re getting blamed because of the Black Lives Matter movement or the Black Lives Matter subject for that matter.”
The report also says the IMPD response failed to differentiate between these two very different groups of people. Wilson said it wasn’t possible for IMPD to tell. “I will say this in regards to IMPD with that situation: I don’t think they knew. So, they can’t get faulted. I look at what’s real. If I’m going to point the finger, I’m going to point the finger at the reality of it. They can’t get faulted for people in the crowd. They didn’t have a clue who was there. It wasn’t like the intelligence again, that happened in D.C.” in the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.
During the downtown Indianapolis rioting in May, Chris Karnavas’ store, Jack’s Donuts, suffered $15,000 in damage. “I was in the middle of it all, and I watched it all unfold on our street.”
News 8 also shared the report’s conclusion — which states in part that the chaos and destruction that happened can’t completely be laid at the feet of front-line IMPD officers — with Karnavas. “I think their hands were tied. I think their hands were totally tied by the mayor’s office at the end of the day.”
The report ends by saying it’s the panel’s hope that recommendations are accepted in the spirit of helping IMPD improve its response to future protests. Wilson shared that hope, and believes IMPD is taking correct steps toward strengthening community bonds.
“During the weekend of May 29 through June 1, 2020, Indianapolis experienced one of the most significant events in the city’s history. As the murder of George Floyd led to sadness, anger, and turmoil across the country, Indianapolis witnessed unprecedented mass protests in support of racial justice. However, in this same moment, as emotions rose and tensions climbed, Indianapolis also experienced instances of rioting, looting, and violence. In the days following, it was clear we needed to understand more about the factors that contributed to such an event, about the response of law enforcement to the crisis, and about what Indianapolis could do different and better in the future. As a result, on June 22, 2020, I called for an independent review to ‘look at evidence relating to the law enforcement response over the timeframe, evaluating officer adherence to departmental policies and providing recommendations on future police action.’
“Today, the panel’s released report does just that. I want to thank the members of the review committee for their work, skill, and expertise in producing this report. The report is thorough, critical, and offers a series of recommendations rooted in best practices that offer our City and IMPD a roadmap moving forward.
“Since those days in late May and early June, IMPD has made a series of substantial changes, including reforms to IMPD’s Use of Force policy, the creation of a Use of Force Review Board, civilian additions to the General Orders Board, and operational changes to the department’s response to large-scale gatherings. These adjustments have been consequential, and Indianapolis has seen over 150 protests without similar incident since June 1. However, our work will not stop. IMPD will continue to adapt and improve its policies and practices to best serve the needs of Indianapolis, leading through transparency and community-led, community-engaged policing. We value the conclusions made by this report, respect the tremendous amount of work that went into this important document, and will work to implement the recommendations.”Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett