MUNCIE — The City of Muncie and the people who live there are ready to move on from the controversy surrounding city government and the police department.
But the question is how to move on.
Former Muncie Mayor Dennis Tyler will soon head to federal prison to serve a one-year sentence for theft of government funds.
In January 2022, the trials for four current and former Muncie police officers will begin related to allegations of excessive force allegations and attempting to cover up the misconduct.
Jonathan Mitchell leads the Muncie community through worship as a senior pastor at Kirby Avenue Church of God in Muncie.
“Justice and humility mean something,” Mitchell said. “Mercy, kindness, that means something.”
Mitchell is also the president of the Muncie Police Merit Commission, a five-person panel that deals with numerous aspects of the police department including hiring, promotions and discipline.
Officers Chase Winkle, Jeremy Gibson, Corey Posey and Sgt. Joe Krejsa were indicted for their roles in allegedly using unreasonable force against suspects and allegedly falsifying records about the incidents.
Krejsa retired in July 2021 from the police department, but the other officers are still employed and Corey Posey is still being paid by the department.
WRTV Investigates: “Can you say whether those cases are still pending before the commission?”
Mitchell: “I am just not comfortable getting into specifics about anything that's going on. I'll just tell you this— as the board we do our due diligence."
WRTV: “Do you decide whether an officer gets put on paid or unpaid leave and that can be part of the process?
Mitchell: “We look at all issues on an individual basis and that can be a part of the process. Part of my job as a pastor as a person connected to the community is making sure they have a right to be involved in the process. When we have our meetings- come to the meetings, ask questions. We invite the public. To be very honest. Very few people attend those meetings. I really wish more people would."
WRTV: “How do you move the community forward?
Mitchell: "I think people need to get more involved. It's our police department. They are accountable to each and every one of us individually and as a city. It's very difficult at times to hear the difference between what is perceived and what I know is true as a person who is intimately involved in the process. That disconnect can be hurtful, but a lot can be allayed if folks would just come and participate in the process. It's your process. It's why we have open forums."
Muncie Mayor Dan Ridenour told WRTV part of moving on is beefing up the police department to 110 officers.
WRTV: “How do you move forward from a troubled past?”
Mayor: "It's a challenge. I'm a marathon runner. The only way you get there is by increasing your miles.**You have to work your way up. The only way we are going to get out of this is we aren't going to go from 86 to 110. It's just not gonna happen. There aren't enough people in line for the jobs. We have to go from 96 to 90, 90 to 93, 93 to 97 and all those things will have an equal effect on the staffing."
Community leader and organizer of anti-crime group Enough is Enough, Marwin Strong, says the city needs to hire more officers from Muncie.
"They've got to hire more minorities,” Strong said. “The more you neighborhoods you go to, you have to build relationships and somebody that looks like you, understands you— not someone that's coming from another town, especially in the low-income areas."
93% of Muncie police is white and 7% minorities, compared to the Muncie population which according to the Census is 83% white and 17% minorities.
Muncie police is also 93% male and 7% female.
“Diversity is important. It's important to this mayor, it's important to the chief,” Mitchell said.
We asked the police Chief Nathan Sloan and the mayor via email what they’re doing to improve diversity on the department and we are still waiting to hear back.
Mitchell’s term ends at the end of 2021 and he hopes to leave Muncie in a better place than when he joined the commission three years ago.
“The answer is let's all work together,” Mitchell said. “That's the answer. When we have problems, let's work together to resolve them and let them know how appreciated they are."
The mayor can re-appoint Mitchell once his term expires.
The mayor gets two appointments to the Muncie Police Merit Commission, the city council gets one, and the panel includes two active members of the police department.