MUNCIE — The mayor of Muncie says he’s concerned about understaffing at the Muncie Police Department and is working to improve the problem.
More than 65,000 people live in the Delaware County community of Muncie.
The city can have 110 police officers, but currently only 86 police officers are on the road, according to Mayor Dan Ridenour.
“We are understaffed, there’s no doubt,” Ridenour said.
The City of Muncie’s contract with the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge #87 says the city should have a minimum of 10 regular patrol officers for a 12-hour shift.
But sometimes, the city isn’t meeting that minimum.
Several current and former police officers tell WRTV Investigates, sometimes the city has only five patrol cars for the entire city—some cars have two officers inside, often because a rookie is in training, but other cars only have one officer working.
WRTV Investigates: Are you concerned about response times and how long it's taking officers to get to where they need to be?
Mayor: “I am worried about the times when we're down to five. I would love to see us where we can get to where we’ve got seven or eight operating vehicles on each shift.”
WRTV: “Have you gotten complaints about response times?”
Mayor: “I would have to say I have not. That doesn’t mean there haven’t been complaints that just means they haven’t gotten to me.”
The police department’s higher-ups, including Chief Nathan Sloan, at times, are working the road, Ridenour said.
Mayor: “We have two deputy chiefs, and both of them and the police chief, Chief Sloan, have been operating in the field to help meet those minimums as best they can.”
WRTV: “Is that ideal?”
Mayor: “No, it’s not ideal. Recruiting is the challenge that we’re faced with. Financially it’s a challenge that we and other cities have but we are clearly at the bottom of the pay scale in the state.”
Starting pay for Muncie police officers is $59,000, Ridenour said, and many suburban Indianapolis police departments start at $70,000.
Mayor: “We'd have officers come in, we'd send them to trainings, they get experience and after three-four years some of the neighboring communities would recruit them away because then they have an experienced officer. Our pay is considerably less. One of the things we did in our first year was to increase police officer pay by 11% to help with that recruitment. We were then able to move up a few cities, but we still have a long way to go."
Ridenour said the bump in pay also caused some existing officers to increase their pension pay and retire.
Mayor: “We've added several officers of late and we hope to continue to do that. It takes support from the county, from the city council and it takes support of the mayor together to solve this problem.”
The Muncie Police Department has been under scrutiny since 2019, when the federal government began investigating allegations of excessive force and officers not properly reporting it.
Five officers were indicted, and four of those indictments are still pending and are scheduled for trial in January 2022.
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The excessive force incidents in question stem from a prior police chief, Joe Winkle, and former Mayor Dennis Tyler, who pleaded guilty to federal theft charges in a federal investigation, known as Operation Public Trust, which is unrelated to the investigation into the police department.
Ridenour said the indictments have had an impact on the police department and the city.
WRTV: “Do you think it’s had an impact on turnover or morale?”
Mayor: “It certainly has an impact on me as the mayor. When stories are run in the paper or TV about investigations or indictments or guilty pleas, if those occur in ’21 for actions that occurred in 2017, 2018 or 2019— it just reopens that wound. It has a big impact I think.”
WRTV: “Are you looking forward to these criminal cases being resolved?”
Mayor: “Absolutely. I look forward to that day. None of this happened from 2020 and beyond, but we continue to pay the price. Our city continues to pay the price.”
WRTV Investigates has asked the current police chief, Sloan, to sit down with us to talk about changes to the department, but he’s refused.
WRTV: “You ran on transparency and we appreciate you sitting down and talking to us. You appointed the police chief. Why won't the police chief sit down and talk to us?”
Mayor: “That is something you would have to ask him. I’m happy to talk about the city of Muncie at any time.”
Ridenour said they are working to improve police interactions with the community.
Mayor: "We put in trainings that do a lot of work for de-escalation, toward communication on stops and how to build those relationships with the public. We put in a number of trainings as well as ethics trainings that are now required of Muncie Police Officers."
WRTV: “Do you feel like that's made a difference?”
Mayor: “Oh I do feel it's made a difference."
WRTV: “How do you get the trust of the community back?”
Mayor: “You get community input which we've done and continue to do. We have a quarterly meeting with a local group that's encouraging how to improve those relationships. I think we are trying to work and go a long way toward improving that and I think we've made some positive steps."
WRTV Investigates requested the following information from the city on July 29:
- How many officers left the department in 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, and 2021
- Reasons for their departures
- The number of budgeted officers per contract each year for 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020 and 2021
- The number of current officers with the department
City attorney Benjamin Freeman responded to WRTV.
“There is no easy to way to pull the information you have requested,” Freeman’s email to WRTV read. “The request is voluminous and will require time to pull together. The documents can be made available to you so that you can determine the answers to your questions. Please work with Sergeant Winningham to arrange a time for the review.”
WRTV Investigates has emailed Sgt. Ryan Winningham several times to review the records and we have not received a response as of Sept. 8.
WRTV has shared this information with Ridenour, and we are still hoping to receive the information.
WRTV also requested body camera footage and case reports in April from several incidents between 2017 and 2018 where excessive force is alleged. WRTV has also requested body camera footage from the deadly police action shooting of Jonathan Levi Allen on March 3.
The city's human resources director did acknowledge the city received WRTV's emailed and mailed request on April 9.
But those requests were denied by Freeman in August because Indiana code requires all requests to "inspect/copy a law enforcement recording" be submitted in writing and include specific information, like the date, time and location of the law enforcement activity and the name of one other person involved in the incident, other than the law enforcement officer.
However, WRTV has obtained body camera footage from the Muncie Police Department without providing that level of detail in the records request including the Joshua Douglas arrest from 2018.
WRTV is still working to gather this specific information to submit a new request.
WRTV's offer to sit down with Sloan still stands.
WRTV Senior Digital Content Producer Andrew Smith contributed to this report.
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