January 28, 2021

Indianapolis Schools Police Force Under Review 5 Years After Previous Analysis Led To No Changes

The Indianapolis Public Schools Police Department is the state’s largest school district-based law enforcement agency. - Eric Weddle/WFYI News

The Indianapolis Public Schools Police Department is the state’s largest school district-based law enforcement agency.

Eric Weddle/WFYI News

Indianapolis Public Schools leaders said Thursday a review of the district police force is underway to examine whether policies are racially equitable and how officers impact students. It will be the second review in five years of the state’s largest school district-based law enforcement agency.

The new analysis by outside researchers comes in wake of social justice protests last summer that refocused the issue of the school-to-prison pipeline and presence of police in schools. Some large school corporations in other states began debating whether to cut school police force budgets or end partnerships with local police departments.

“Our team did not lose sight of our commitment that we made in our efforts to ensure that we are reviewing and analyzing our policies and practices in the IPS police department,” Superintendent Aleesia Johnson said during a school board meeting.

IPS Chief of External Affairs Ahmed Young oversees the review process and said the conversations in Indianapolis on racial equity are the “perfect vehicle to move forward with the study of IPSPD.”

“Within the IPS police department, there are things that we need to continue to evaluate and assess,” Young told the board. “And not only evaluate and assess, but correct and make even and make better than what has been over the years.”

He said the review of the Indianapolis Public Schools Police Department will answer four key questions, including:

  • What is the effectiveness of the force?
  • What are the student experiences and outcomes, based on interaction with police?
  • Do policies take racial equity into consideration?
  • What are the short and long term benefits of the district’s police department?

“I think there is a mindset shift that is taking place and we need to push that further and faster,” Young said of the police department’s interest in making improvements to support IPS students, a majority of whom are Black and brown.

Student arrests by IPS police fell by 68 percent between the 2014-15 and 2018-19 school years. During that period arrests dropped from 238 students to 76 students, according to the district.

Last summer, IPS reported 50 students were arrested during the 2019-20 school year, when school buildings were closed in March due to the coronavirus.

The current study of IPS Police Department began last year, Young said. Surveys of middle and high school students will begin soon, IPS said Friday. Researchers at Indiana University’s Public Policy Institute will lead the study and offer recommendations as part it. The institute reviewed the force five years ago.

Those researchers will also analyze data about the police force actions, in addition to more interviews with IPS staff, district police, families, and the community.

Results and recommendations from the review are expected within three months, Young said.

In 2015 the district hired the IU Public Policy Institute to review the district police force, with a focus on finding ways to improve relations and transparency with students and the community. The review resulted in a set of recommendations and said the district should create a citizens review panel to oversee complaints of officers and internal investigations. They also suggested it survey students, teachers and others about their perceptions of police in schools.

Those recommendations were not taken up. Young said they “informed many practices” but were sidelined by changes in district leadership and other factors, including the retirement of the police chief. 

In 2019 Tonia Guynn became the first Black woman to lead the IPS police department. Chief Guynn has served in the force for more than 30 years.

IPS police are responsible for overseeing students in and out of school buildings. Some officers and sergeants are assigned to middle and high schools. Other officers patrol in shifts and respond to needs at elementary schools, home welfare checks and student transportation.

Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department supports IPSPD under a memorandum of understanding on jurisdiction and investigations.

Last summer, WFYI reported the IPS police force was 41 officers and sergeants, and 10 civilian staff. In 2015, there were 56 officers and sergeants and 13 civilian staff.

Last year's budget for the department was $4.6 million. In 2014, the budget was $4.49 million, a 2 percent decrease from 2013 and an 8 percent decrease since 2011, according to district data.

Clarification: Jan. 29, 2021: The story was updated to clarify when a survey porition of the 2021 review of the Indianapolis Public Schools Police Department will start.

Contact WFYI education reporter Eric Weddle at eweddle@wfyi.org or call (317) 614-0470. Follow on Twitter: @ericweddle.

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