Policing Marion County

John Leaf was home, in bed. Heeding the advice of Mothers Against Drunk Driving and others, he had given his car keys to a friend because he had been drinking.

John Leaf was home, in bed.  Heeding the advice of Mothers Against Drunk Driving and others, he had given his car keys to a friend because he had been drinking.
Unfortunately, Leaf’s apartment key was on that same key chain—an oversight that cost him his life. When he had to break in to his own apartment, a neighbor alerted the Marion County Sheriff; two deputies responded by entering the home and fatally shooting him.
The deputy who fired the fatal shots insists Leaf attacked him although he had shouted several times that he was a Sheriff’s deputy. Neighbors claim they heard nothing until the shots, although they could always hear Leaf’s television when it was on. Whatever the truth of the matter, Indianapolis faces yet another wrenching debate about the way we police Marion County.
As we engage in that discussion, we should consider the following:
  • There are in excess of 20 separate police forces within the county. While IPD and the Sheriff’s department are by far the largest, other units of government—from Lawrence and Speedway to IUPUI and the Statehouse—also hire and deploy police.
  • Jurisdictions overlap. The Sheriff is technically responsible for the entire county, while IPD polices only within the boundaries of the “old” (pre-Unigov) city. Officers who work for the other police departments operating within the county may overlap with the Sheriff, with IPD, or both.


  • Those of us living in Center Township, or any of the other parts of the county served by multiple police departments, are taxed for duplicate services. This is particularly galling because—thanks to formal and informal arrangements between IPD and the Sheriff—we rarely receive duplicate service, just duplicate tax bills.


This multiplicity of agencies, each with its own administrative overhead and its own policies, drives up costs and makes co-ordination difficult. But the biggest problem is lack of accountability.
Consolidated City ordinances are supposed to apply to the entire county. But it is common to encounter situations where IPD enforces an ordinance one way, and the Sheriff another, with unfortunate results. A good example is the street vendor ordinance. Within IPD’s boundaries, it has been enforced against everyone from peanut vendors to Nation of Islam representatives. In suburban areas served by the Sheriff’s department, firefighters are routinely seen on highway medians soliciting charitable contributions, high-school students are in traffic promoting car washes, and so forth. Many citizens  assume racially-motivated enforcement, not recognizing that different law enforcement agencies are involved.
In response to highly publicized incidents, IPD policies and procedures have been subjected to searching scrutiny. The Civilian Review process now encourages independent investigation of questionable incidents. Internal procedures for dealing with police action shootings include mandatory “time out” for the officers involved. Those accountability measures, and many others, do not apply to the Sheriff’s department.  The deputy who shot Leaf returned to work immediately.
It is time to finish the unfinished business of Unigov. Marion County needs a single police force, with one administration, one set of rules, one tax rate, and one standard of accountability.