MSNBC, May 7, 1998
Behind the Badge--Pt. 1
By Jeremy Rogalski
Last month our investigators conducted their own investigation of the Indianapolis Police Department and learned 26 officers abused their wives or girlfriends. So we decided to look more closely behind the badge In our investigation we found dozens more who repeatedly get into trouble, and a system that allows them to stay on the force.
They take an oath to protect, serve and enforce the law.
But a string of officers at the Indianapolis Police Department face charges of breaking the very laws they swore to uphold. Battery. Drunken driving. Bribery and criminal deviate conduct. Even murder.
Every week, it seems, another officer finds himself on the wrong side of the law. But is IPD out of control? Or, as Chief Michael Zunk contends, is it just a few who give the department a black eye?
Our in-depth investigation behind the badge of IPD shows that police misconduct has been costly. Add up all the suspensions in the past six years and they total 1,439 days. That’s nearly four years that those officers should have been working for the public.
”I don’t trust them,” says Jessica Mora. “I wouldn’t trust one.
Mora is the former manager of a local Village Pantry store.
I had an employee - several employees - that had warned me about a police officer that would come in the store and rub against them, push his body up against them, while he was walking behind the counter,” she says.
It was Officer Ronald Black. And while IPD was investigating that incident, it also caught Black placing bets over a store telephone. It was his 21st disciplinary action. He told us he has no complaints about the system.
I haven’t been abused,” he says.
Black was punished with a five-day suspension and is still on the force.
That’ s just one example of how IPD polices itself.
To get a broader picture, we spent three months looking at the disciplinary records of all 1,005 officers on the force. We analyzed them using a computer database and found some unsettling patterns:
And some officers who abused their power were not labeled as lawbreakers.
- 27 officers have 10 or more disciplinary actions on their records.
- 95 officers committed offenses that could constitute ghost employment, such as sleeping on the job, faking illness or injury, or skipping their assigned duties.
- And, according to IPD’s own reckoning, 52 officers patrolling your streets have themselves broken the law. Some offenses were traffic violations. Others, like Black’s, were much more serious.
Ronald Rehmel, for instance, responded to a call at a local apartment building and found a woman upset about a domestic problem. Rehmel offered to cheer her up.
According to the report, Officer Rehmel told the woman how beautiful she was, then began rubbing her knee and thigh. He also rubbed her shoulders and fondled her breasts. She told him to leave. He gave her a parting hug - and squeezed her buttocks.
Rehmel admitted to his behavior, got a five-day suspension and was sent to counseling. He chose not to comment for our story.
In another case, Officer Jay Barlow helped track down a man suspected of stealing his friend’s car. According to the records, Barlow watched as the man was badly beaten and kicked.
He left the scene without calling for help or making a report.
To be honest, I was pressed for time,” he says. Barlow says he was off-duty and heading out of town. He thought his punishment - a five-day suspension - was too harsh.
Those officers have to be dealt with in an appropriate fashion, or they become a law unto themselves,” says Sheila Kennedy, executive director of the Indiana Civil Liberties Union.
But the Fraternal Order of Police argues critics exaggerate IPD’s disciplinary problems.
The overwhelming majority of offenses you’re talking about - and I can’t make this clear enough - are very minor offenses,” says FOP President David Young.
They’re offenses like having an unkempt uniform, he says.
Minor or not, however, IPD has a history of retaining some officers who have lengthy disciplinary records.
The department has punished 34 current officers for failing to improve after being disciplined or for having repeated rule violations.
Jerald Gillespie, hired in 1970, is near the top of the list. He’s cost the city money - $3,000 for beating a suspect. He’s cost the city patrol time - 295 days to suspensions. And he’s been convicted of beating his wife. Yet Gillespie has remained on the force. He faces the loss of his job now only because of a new federal law that bars domestic violence offenders from carrying a gun. Gillespie is appealing.
Chief Zunk says Gillespie is not representative of the entire force.
And in fact the records show that IPD disciplines just five percent of its officers each year. That’s a figure criminologists say is normal - and IPD says proves it’s not as bad as critics make it out to be.
We are very aware of our problems and we are working really hard to fix them,” the chief says.
But Zunk says any institution will always have its share of troublemakers.
Not just law enforcement, but everybody has their two percent that don’t want to hold themselves to a higher standard, so I guess that’s our two percent,” he says.
That’s little assurance to citizens like Jessica Mora.
These people are supposed to be there to protect us - not to be touching on anybody or anything else. They’re supposed to be there to protect you.”
Produced by Kathleen Johnston and Gerry Lanosga.