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Cities, towns in Marion County concerned about police staffing once sheriff’s deputies leave

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Beginning Jan. 1, the Marion County Sheriff’s Office will no longer provide jail transportation and hospital detention services for Southport, Lawrence, Beech Grove, Speedway and Cumberland.

It’s something those city leaders and police chiefs say will be detrimental to public safety in their communities.

“Excluded cities have neither the people nor the funding to safely perform the services that the Marion County Sheriff’s Office will be discontinuing in 12 days,” said Lawrence police chief David Hofmann.

Hofmann echoed the concerns of other city leaders at a Tuesday morning press conference.

Vince Noblet, the council president in Speedway, says the town of nearly 14,000 residents will only have three officers on street patrol at bare minimum without the sheriff’s office. “That is not a sufficient amount of time for us as a small town to handle those kinds of responsibilities,” Noblet said. “It’s going to take police officers off our street to basically transport those people down.”

Robert Mercuri, deputy chief of the Beech Grove Police Department, says he is already seeing people take advantage of the low officer staffing. He says communities can expect crime to increase and for emergency wait times to get longer. “We’re absolutely seeing it that people are like, ‘Hey, you know, you’re not going to lock me up. Oh, take me to jail. I’ll be out five seconds,’” said the police official in the city of 14,700 residents.

Leaders in Lawrence say the city of 49,300 residents averages over 1,000 requests a year for the Marion County Sheriff’s Office to help with jail transportation.

The sheriff’s office gave a statement to I-Team 8.

“The Marion County Sheriff’s Office has long reported critical staffing difficulties and the fact that no other Sheriff’s Office in the state is saddled with the costs of arrestee healthcare and transportation – costs the Sheriff has no ability to control. The MCSO’s transition to the Community Justice Campus (CJC) will double the number of inmates for which we provide direct oversight. The most recent Controller-directed budgetary process simply did not fund enough MCSO staff to handle this significant increase and perform arrestee services. According to Colonel James Martin, the Controller’s financial priority was for the MCSO to eliminate arrestee services and focus on staffing and security for the Adult Detention Center, CJC, and City-County Building.”

Marion County Sheriff’s Office

Gary Woodruff, Lawrence Police Department deputy chief, told I-Team 8 the department wound up with 13 successful candidates from 429 applicants during its last round of hiring.

Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett has said he disagrees with the decision and hopes the sheriff’s office will continue its services for the excluded cities.

In a statement from City Controller Ken Clark sent to the mayors of the excluded cities, he said, “the County will continue to cover the medical costs of any person subject to lawful detention and will also mitigate the cost to the excluded cities and IMPD of the arrestee transportation and staffing the detention unit at Eskenazi Health [by making] funds from the County’s allocation of the American Rescue Plan Act’s (ARPA) Fiscal Recovery Funds (FRF) available for overtime of police officers in the excluded cities and towns as well as IMPD for calendar year 2022.”