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. Voting 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.