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Report says IMPD tactics increased tensions during May 2020 protests

Lack of training and communication cited as factors
Posted at 12:19 PM, Feb 26, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-03 10:19:38-05

INDIANAPOLIS — A report released Friday criticized the response of the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department during downtown protests that turned violent last May.

It lists a number of ways in which the department was unprepared during the weekend of May 29, including how a lack of training and planning within the department and communication with people in the streets led to violence that occurred during the nighttime hours. The report also cites police tactics that escalated tensions within the crowds.

Two people were killed, several were injured, and dozens were arrested during the last weekend of May, which came soon after the police killings of George Floyd in Minneapolis and Dreasjon Reed in Indianapolis.

"It is clear that the magnitude of the gatherings in Downtown Indianapolis that weekend were unprecedented; but to a certain extent, they were insufficiently anticipated by IMPD, given the tensions that had been building since early May in the city," the report reads.

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In June, Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett formed a 3-person independent review panel consisting of attorneys Deborah J. Daniels and Myra C. Shelby and Martin University President Sean L. Huddleston to examine at the police response.

The panel interviewed IMPD leadership and officers, along with civilians, and reviewed hours of video footage.

The 44-page report cited a lack of training that led officers to escalate tensions with the crowd. The use of tactical and riot gear was noted.

"More than one person interviewed noted that wearing tactical gear sends a negative message that 'we're ready for a fight,'" the report read. "Protesters and witnesses interviewed also shared that the presence of paddy wagons and police vehicles in their view, along with what was perceived as military-style weapons, created the perception of an aggressive police posture from the outset."

The panel argued a lack of training was a significant factor and wrote, "it's highly unlikely that the IMPD officers whose actions escalated the tensions of the crowd during the weekend of May 29 did so deliberately, nor is their misapprehension about the effective tactics limited to their agency."

"There appears to be a significant need for updated training for all Indiana police officers, to help the appropriate role of the police officer in 21st Century America," the report reads.

The panel made recommendations that include improved training, internal planning and communication, use of de-escalation techniques rather than "disorder control tactics," avoiding excessive force, no encircling of crowds, avoidance of aggressive posture and improving outreach to the community.

"In June, I made a commitment that this police department would further its march toward progress," IMPD Chief Randal Taylor said in a statement. "And that’s exactly what we have done — modernizing our use of force policies, adding the safety measures and de-escalation tactics recommended by the ACLU to written policy for the Event Response Group, banning no-knock warrants, deploying body cameras, and adding new layers of civilian oversight."

The report noted IMPD could encounter resistance to changes by the Indiana Law Enforcement Academy, which trains police from around the state at its headquarters in Plainfield.

"Interestingly, when IMPD announced in June 2020 an updated use of force policy that would rely on an 'objective reasonableness' and proportionality of force analysis rather than simply the officer's 'reasonable belief' that a certain level of force was necessary, thus bringing IMPD into compliance with more modern policing methods, the Chief received a written communication from the ILEA board, warning IMPD that it could not institute such a change without approval from ILEA and suggesting that ILEA might take negative action against IMPD for making a change," the report read.

Fires were started in the streets when protests became violent in Downtown Indianapolis on Saturday, May 30, 2020.

Indianapolis leaders and activists react to report

Mark Russell, who serves as the director of advocacy and family services for the Indianapolis Urban League, said the need for improved and updated training within IMPD cannot be emphasized enough.

“Your own workforce, no matter what type of work that you do, you have to embrace the need for training. It helps make your endeavors, whatever they may be, be more bound by the book," Russell said. "You learn how to do your job in a better way. It’s even more so important for people that have the ability to take someone else's life. So, training is literally a life and death issue for men and women in law enforcement, and we at the Urban League think that cannot be under emphasized.”

Hogsett released a statement saying IMPD "has made a series of substantial changes" that include reforms to its use-of-force policy, the creation of a Use-of-Force Review Board, civilian additions to the General Orders Board and changes to the department's response to large gatherings.

"These adjustments have been consequential, and Indianapolis has seen over 150 protests without similar incident since June 1," Hogsett said. "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.”

Taylor said the report's recommendations are "critical of IMPD leadership's actions during that time, as they were intended to be."

"But the men and women who serve in our neighborhoods every day were the ones faced with the unprecedented violence that struck the heart of our city, and ultimately, returned peace to the Mile Square. I remain grateful for their efforts," Taylor said.

IMPD Deputy Chief of Operations Josh Barker said the department recognizes not everything went right during the first three days of the protests.

“This is another opportunity where IMPD can show we are committed to the process, right," Barker said. "It’s the process that we are committed to and that process is constantly taking feedback from the community constantly taking feedback from our officers and trying to create a path forward and make sure that some of those mistakes and missteps in the report aren’t made again.”

He said the department has worked about 150 demonstrations since June 1 in and around downtown Indianapolis without any incidents.

“We are taking the recommendations very seriously," Barker said. "We are committed to the process of identifying a path forward with the community so that we can be better public service servants in the police department and a police department that Indianapolis is proud of. We are committed to policing for our community and with our community.”

The group Indy10 Black Lives Matter told WRTV in a statement that "the prevailing characterization of the report is that IMPD and protesters had an equal and mutual understanding of each others motives, and that was the root cause of issues last summer."

"We disagree and believe this report has missed a real opportunity to highlight real missteps by IMPD’s response to community protests during the Summer of 2020," the statement said.

A release from the city said the review board members will not comment on the report because "they intend for the report to speak for itself."

RELATED | IMPD: 2 killed, more than 50 arrested in weekend violence in Downtown Indianapolis | Here's what happened with protests and demonstrations this weekend in downtown Indianapolis

Read the full report below: