Indianapolis Star Editorial

Take the Long View for Public Safety

July 23, 2005
Our position is: Approving public safety plan is just first step in dealing with long-range problems in Marion County.

The Criminal Justice Planning Council's proposal to spend proceeds from the county option income tax increase would reduce lengthy backlogs at the crime lab and ease other problems contributing to overcrowding at the Marion County Jail. The plan should be speedily approved.

So should another public safety proposal: merging the Indianapolis Police Department with the Marion County Sheriff's Department, a step that could yield $9 million in annual savings to taxpayers.

But don't think these moves are all that is required to improve public safety in Indianapolis. At some point, the county must address its long-term needs.

As one consultant to federal Judge Sarah Evans Barker has stated -- and sheriff's counsel Kevin Charles Murray admits -- the complex of buildings that make up the jail need to be replaced. The fact that detainees parade daily through the City-County Building to a bullpen just 100 feet from a day-care center indicates a new courthouse also is in order.

Grouping all parts of the criminal justice system into a new campus south of Downtown makes sense. The move also would allow the city to sell off the Downtown sites for development and spur revitalization of what remains an unremarkable Delaware Street corridor.

Even with a merger of IPD and the Sheriff's Department, at least 250 more officers will be needed to police the entire county. It's time to plan for more hires and prepare for the day when baby boomers start retiring from the ranks.

Marion County leaders, along with those in other counties, ultimately must better communicate to the General Assembly that the trend of imprisoning more and more offenders has become too costly for taxpayers.

Increased reliance on alternatives such as community service would not only reduce the amount of needed jail space, but could even help the city find the manpower needed to confront such problems as abandoned houses and overgrown lawns.

All of this will be expensive, but necessary in the long run. This year's decisions cannot be the end of the conversation. Only the beginning.