Crime and the City: Some Unsolicited Advice to the Next Mayor

Several years ago, when Bart Peterson and Sue Ann Gilroy were running for Mayor, the IBJ asked Morton Marcus and yours truly to write a series of dueling recommendations to the eventual winner, titled “Letters to the Next Mayor.” My recollection is that they discontinued the feature fairly early on, but in that spirit, I’d like to offer some unsolicited advice to the winner of next year’s mayoral contest.

Give public safety back to the Sheriff.

When Greg Ballard was elected, one of the first things he did was take the newly combined IMPD away from the Sheriff, and assume responsibility for public safety. That was my first clue that he had no idea what he was doing. This wrongheaded move was prompted more by machismo and ego and the fact that the Sheriff was a Democrat than by any requirement of good governance.

Back when I was Corporation Counsel, I urged Bill Hudnut to consolidate IPD with the Sheriff’s department and give the new entity to the Sheriff. There was a reason for that advice. For one thing, there’s efficiency: a mayor has multiple responsibilities–public works, parks, economic and community development and numerous others–that compete for his time and attention, while the Sheriff is a constitutional officer whose sole responsibility and focus is criminal justice.

It isn’t simply a matter of efficiency, however. Good government and good politics both weigh in favor of letting the Sheriff take primary responsibility for IMPD.

Good government requires clear lines of accountability. When voters are going to the polls to vote for a mayor, they must “grade” an incumbent on what Ed Koch used to call the “How’m I doing?” scale. The multiple responsibilities of the office require voters to balance the incumbent’s record on crime against multiple other aspects of performance; as a result, the message sent by voters will necessarily be mixed and subject to different interpretations.┬áVoting for a Sheriff whose entire portfolio is policing allows for much more direct accountability.

Politically, taking charge of public safety was foolish–what we might call an “unforced error.” When Ballard was elected, he told everyone who would listen that crime was going to be his “Number One” priority, and invited voters to judge him on that basis. They will, and it won’t be pretty.

Sometimes, the political game of “Mr. Macho” works. More often, it comes back to bite you.


  1. If I remember correctly, Sheila, one of the primary changes to be brought about by Uni-Gov was to combine IPD and the Sheriff’s Department. At that time there was confusion and arguments over who had jurisdiction and responsibility in many areas due to changing city/county dividing lines. I never undertood why the public safety issue was not resolved when Uni-Gov went into effect and was relieved when Mayor Peterson finally resolved this. Ballard’s former life as a Marine was, to him, was enough qualification to take over public safety and make all decisions. Look where that has brought us; I think the murder count for the year is now at 84, guns are everywhere and there were two more shootings last night. I am very fortunate that the man who mugged me was not armed; but a 47 year old healthy male against four elderly women (I was the youngest at 76) doesn’t need a weapon. I had hoped the election of Terry Curry as Prosecutor would bring about stronger control over criminals and charges filed against them. The separation of the three who planned and carried out the deadly, devastating explosion in the Richmond neighborhood should never have been allowed. Three people planned and carried out one crime, this was not a series of criminal acts over a long period of time. It was one night in hell for residents and this city. Regarding my own case; there will be no Assault charge against the man who injured 90 year old Carrie Lee who was trapped behind the wheel of her parked car when attacked or for my injuries which have still not healed after nearly four months. This all falls under the jurisdiction of Public Safety…how safe to any of you feel this morning? The Sheriff’s Department deputies have become glorified jailers and process servers rather than full-fledged officers of the law. There isn’t much public property or local government control left for Ballard to lease or sell off and few pro sports teams levt to seek before he leaves office – and please, let him leave office before this becomes Ballardville.

  2. It’s my understanding that the Sheriff is the top constitutional officer in a county, and is responsible for maintaining the constitutional rights of the citizens who elected him or her. If that is the case, isn’t stripping the Sheriff of law enforcement duties contrary to the Constitution?

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