Indianapolis Star Editorial

Let's Move Beyond Safety-Pin Solutions

April 20, 2006
Our position: Marion County leaders must take comprehensive measures to resolve problems in public safety.

Cale Bradford, presiding judge of Marion County's courts, once compared the local criminal justice system to a beat-up old car held together with Bondo and baling wire. A bipartisan City-County Council committee has now proposed adding duct tape and Stop-Leak in the form of fee increases and borrowing to keep the old jalopy chugging awhile longer.

Higher fees for false burglar alarms, police reports and certain court documents, coupled with hiring an agency to collect on parking tickets, would generate $4 million. The panel also is counting on $8.8 million in proposed savings from merging police and sheriff's operations, $6.4 million in borrowing and about $16 million a year from increasing the county option income tax. The total would be used to hire 126 police, 44 firefighters and three judges. The county also would add 300 jail and 10 infirmary beds and make other improvements at the jail, the juvenile center and the coroner's office.

Mayor Bart Peterson contends that the effects of these measures will be to maintain police and fire departments at full strength, help keep criminals off the streets and make Indianapolis a safer place. The recommendations should be adopted.

Yet, the community's criminal justice and public safety systems need far more comprehensive repair.

As Marion County Clerk Doris Anne Sadler, a member of the Criminal Justice Planning Council, noted, numerous long-term problems remain, including a badly overcrowded courthouse that will become even more congested with three additional judges and their caseloads. Councilman Phil Borst wants to develop a long-term budget plan. He has proposed bringing together agencies throughout city government to create five-year budget forecasts. That might enable the city to take a more united approach to the General Assembly, which has too much control over the city's finances.

The legislature needs to adopt a similar comprehensive approach to the city's problems, including allowing the merger of city and township fire departments. It's a commonsense move that could free up more than $20 million a year for public safety needs without raising taxes or fees.

Quick fixes may keep the jalopy running. But they are no way to fulfill government's most important function -- providing for public safety.