WATCH NOW: Council reviews stack of orders that would change police hiring, firing and discipline | News from Gary

GARY — A stack of 17 orders related to updating Gary Police Department procedures would put the police chief “in the driver’s seat,” City Attorney Rodney Pol said at a meeting of the public safety committee on Wednesday.

The ordinances were introduced at a Gary Common Council meeting in late August, about five months after the city announced a partnership with the Indiana State Police. The goal of the partnership has been to assess the entire Gary Police Department and determine what changes need to be made and what resources are needed.

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The proposed orders essentially give the chief of police more power in hiring, firing and disciplining officers, powers that currently rest with the Police Civil Service Commission of six volunteers. The proposed changes come as the city searches for a new police chief.

Pol, who is also a Democratic state senator from Porter County, said the changes would update outdated rules, make things more efficient and give the police chief more leverage.

Indiana State Police Maj. Jerry Williams has worked with the Gary Police Department since April, evaluating the department’s practices and procedures. At a Public Safety Committee meeting Wednesday night, Williams discussed 17 proposed orders that largely overhaul the hiring, firing and discipline process.

Molly DeVore, The Times

“When you have a police department, you want to have a leader who can establish the culture, the mentality and be able to control morale a little more directly,” Pol explained.

Hiring and evaluations

According to the group’s mission statement, the Civil Service Commission provides tests to assess new recruits and sworn officers for promotions and directs the disciplinary process.

Under the proposed changes, candidates for the police department would instead interview a panel of officers selected by the chief. The chief would also choose the agency that administers testing for new recruits.

“When people come into the police department, we want them to interview the people they’re actually going to work with,” Pol said.

The new orders also change who conducts performance reviews. Assessments would be conducted by the agent’s immediate supervisor every 12 months. The commission would still have the power to affirm or correct assessments, Pol said, explaining that the change would make reviews more frequent.

Juana McLaurin, a member of the Gary Fire Public Service Commission, said the changes eliminate “the commission of everything”, instead of giving all the power to the chief of police. She said the hiring process is meant to be “apolitical and non-discriminatory”. Because the commission is made up of two people from different political parties appointed by the mayor, two from different political parties appointed by the council, and two from different political parties elected by the police department, McLaurin said, the group is fairly balanced.

“The chief of police, if he’s the one to hire, you can see where it might be a bit political, about who you like or dislike or something like that,” McLaurin said.

Streamlining of the disciplinary process

“You’re one moment away from having an uproar,” Pol told the Gary Public Safety Committee. He explained that currently, if an officer violates standard operating procedures or commission rules, the police chief can only place them on unpaid leave for five days. Beyond that, the chief must send a verified complaint to the commission and launch an internal investigation. Throughout the investigation, the agent must either continue to work or be placed on paid leave.

“I don’t think anyone can agree that it’s acceptable for an officer to stay home and get paid time off while they go through the disciplinary process,” Pol said.

The officer could appeal the outcome of the hearing to the commission. The commission can reject or modify the disciplinary measure if it can prove that it is in some way discriminatory.

Acting Chief of Police Brian Evans said he supported the majority of the orders because “discipline is never punishment. It’s about changing negative behavior, correcting that behavior and discouraging similar behavior by other members of the organization”.

By making the disciplinary process more efficient, Evans said, the department can resolve issues more effectively.

Who has the power?

While the commission is still able to review many decisions made by the chief and the department, Council Chairman William Godwin, D-1st, said “the bottom line is that the chief will, if it passes , powers he does not currently have.”

The chief should still operate within the department’s standard operating procedures, or SOPs, however, Godwin said he was concerned because a new chief can also change SOPs.

“We need to have something a little firmer on what those SOPs will look like if, in fact, I’m supposed to be comfortable giving the chief additional powers,” Godwin said.

Gary’s public safety committee reviewed about half of the orders on Wednesday and will review the rest at a meeting Sept. 7.

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