Editor’s note: This is part two of a two-part series. Last week focused on how mayor-elect Tyler Moore will approach the early days of his term, along with his positions on local development and economic growth. This week includes Moore’s comments on infrastructure and public safety.
Mayor-elect Tyler Moore has been clear since he started his campaign: Kokomo needs more police officers.
In a recent Tribune interview, however, he provided a caveat to that position, saying if his administration collects data showing crime is not on the rise in Kokomo, he may be open to firing officers or not replacing retirees.
Right now, Moore believes a low-90s staffing level is appropriate for the Kokomo Police Department — it currently sits around 80 officers — but left the door open to at some point downsizing that goal depending on the story told by crime data gathered by the KPD in coming years.
His comments were part of a wide-ranging conversation on Nov. 14 that tackled a variety of Moore’s stances just weeks before he takes over the third-floor office in City Hall.
While he was at times complimentary of the Goodnight administration – “Everything that the current administration has done has been wonderful to establish the quality of place in Kokomo” – Moore believes some changes are needed.
The extent of those changes remains unknown.
Part two of our series includes the incoming mayor’s takes on the potential policy alterations and focuses heavily on infrastructure, public safety and police staffing.
In the room were Moore, State Rep. Mike Karickhoff — a member of Moore’s transition team — Tribune reporter George Myers, managing editor Sally Mahan and editor Jeff Kovaleski.
The conversation has been edited for length and clarity. Initials precede each person’s comments.
George Myers: You mention quality-of-place and quality-of-life. Obviously those two things were a big part of the Goodnight administration: extending and maintaining the trail system, street trees, hanging flowers, beautification, walkability, all of that.
Are those all areas that you plan to continue as an emphasis of your administration?
Tyler Moore: Because it’s become a vital part of the overall experience that is Kokomo, we’ll look at it. We may not do things to the extent that Mayor Goodnight has and may do things differently than he has. It’ll just be part of that discussion that I’ll have with my administration but then also with this advisory committee.
On Monday, Moore revealed a 30-member advisory committee that runs the gamut from education and religion to city government and local business.
That’s the beauty of having so many folks that I’ve asked to, ‘Hey, still be on call as we start the New Year.’ To say, ‘What are your thoughts on Home Avenue and Apperson? What are your thoughts on an additional roundabout where it might be needed?’
GM: Are those all things that you’ll emphasize – continuing to try to expand and maintain the trail, continuing to develop green spaces, trees, flowers downtown? Those are all things you support?
TM: Yes, again, within reason. There are certain places that maybe – there’s been questions on the placement of trees, either in medians or in other spots. Not necessarily by me, but even organizations like the Master Gardeners, that are like, ‘Whoa, root system and everything.’
So we’ll continue to have that discussion. I mean, yes, I think beautification is a key aspect of the city, especially downtown, and I will continue to make that an emphasis. Maybe just not to the extent that the current administration has.
GM: And you’re on board with the walkability concept that they talk about, and having people out in the community walking from place to place versus driving from place to place? That’s a philosophy you think is best for the community?
TM: Yes, but not to the extent that the street narrowing and bumpouts have been utilized. So, walkability, yes, but if leading into that is, are you [going to] continue to narrow streets and put more bumpouts in? No, unless it’s warranted.
I’d like to take a look at areas around the schools where there is a lot more foot traffic, where kids are relying on walking to and from school, looking at those and maybe bumpouts in and around the school areas as part of an initiative maybe to look at sidewalks and such.
Because there’s so much foot traffic already in areas outside of the downtown area, around schools and such, that I would look for any type of that improvement to be around those.
GM: So what will be your roads philosophy? And are there any areas that maybe haven’t been touched by the city, or have been touched by the city, that you want to either redesign or change back to the way they were?
TM: It’s not my intention to undo what already has been done.
But, like the city has already done along Apperson in front of Second Missionary Baptist Church, where they’ve already scaled that one [bumpout] back, yes, get with police and fire, maybe even the hospitals with their ambulance service, maybe even Syndicate Sales, Kokomo Grain, those that have heavy traffic in and around town, to look for troubled areas or areas of concern and then find ways to efficiently scale some of those back if necessary.
But streets and roads, in particular, I’m not interested in narrowing too many, but looking at getting back to an aggressive resurfacing rotation of streets and even the alleyways. I’ve talked to some of the city trash-truck drivers that are still utilizing the alleyways to pick up refuse and such. And they’re like, ‘The trucks have been beating up the alleys, now the alleys are beating up the trucks.’
So, even looking at stepping away from that type of development, and looking at the restructuring and resurfacing of existing roads. But I’ve not identified any particular areas.
GM: A part of the road diet philosophy that Goodnight’s administration has really embraced is about physical activity: adding bike lanes, making it safer for pedestrians. So if you’re not in favor of road diets, what is an approach you’ll take to lead to increased physical activity inside Kokomo?
In a 2019 report, Howard County was ranked 80th out of Indiana’s 92 counties in health outcomes, which measure how long people live and how healthy they feel. It finished 81st in health factors, based on behaviors, clinical care, social and economic factors and physical environment.
TM: I think continue to support and maintain the trails. I know if there’s concerns with the safety along some of those, the city is in the process of installing cameras along the trails, as well, and setting up individual hubs to collect the information from the wireless cameras. So I’m all in favor of continuing that project.
Outside of that, still working within the system, but I think also as part of the street resurfacing and addressing the alleys, finding programs or finding ways to help improve the sidewalks. Because even in neighborhoods, you don’t need to be downtown to be walkable.
I think the whole community needs to be walkable, and if the sidewalks themselves are an issue and are in need of attention and repair, there can be opportunities in that just so that folks are walking to and from and around their neighborhoods.
The conversation then moved into a discussion about violent crime and police staffing – two topics that played huge roles in this fall’s election. While there was a bipartisan call for additional police officers, Republicans and some Democrats also pointed to what they said was a sharp uptick in violent crime in Kokomo, despite Kokomo Police Department data that shows otherwise.
“Folks are concerned with the number of street projects and bumpouts, but the biggest concern they have is the increased level of violence that the current administration has often claimed doesn’t really exist,” said Moore on election night.
GM: Do you have some of your own statistics that show violent crime is a problem in Kokomo? Or do you think that for some reason the KPD’s statistics don’t tell the whole story?
TM: Those statistics don’t tell the whole story. I don’t have any specific statistics myself other than just conversations that I’ve had with police officers that are on the shifts and see the struggles about not being more proactive and having to rely on being reactive.
And then even the conversations that some of the church community has had. I know there have been a couple community conversations at Mt. Pisgah, there have been prayer vigils up at Studebaker Park. Just attending those and hearing what’s discussed at those forums, and then really a lot of what we heard just walking streets and neighborhoods from folks that there’s a concern with what they feel is an increase in crime activity that they hope to address.
Part of that too is the relationship that they feel doesn’t exist with the KPD and their officers. There’s almost a mutual distrust at times between the two that we really need to be aggressive and work together to try and bridge and try to break down that barrier.
And fortunately the recent conversations that have been had at Mt. Pisgah and other places prove that members of the community see the need for greater attention and then also a willingness to start working with and alongside KPD to help address it.
GM: I think everyone acknowledges there are areas inside Kokomo where crime has worsened. But city-wide the statistics do not bear out an increase in violent crime.
How do you weigh that fact with your claim that violent crime is up across Kokomo? You’re giving anecdotal examples but is it possible these anecdotal examples are being influenced by the fact social media and politicians are telling them crime is going up?
Is relying on anecdotal evidence really a great way to build a governing approach?
TM: That’s the good and bad thing about social media, is the increase in awareness. Yeah, you’ve got folks that could say that there is a problem and there might not be. But when you’ve got a mother of young children posting a video, and she’s got – it’s taped that shots are fired and that she’s running and fearful for her life and her children’s lives, yeah, that’s the either good or bad thing about social media, is just the immediate public awareness of issues that arise when they do.
Sure, is there fear-mongering? Probably. Are there those that may be over the top? Unfortunately, yes. But I think to rely on one opinion versus another, I guess is –
Sally Mahan: I think that’s the thing that George is getting to. These aren’t about opinions, these are just facts. These are reliable facts from the FBI.
Here, Mahan references the crime data turned in by the KPD each year to the FBI. That data has not shown a notable increase in violent crime and in some instances has displayed decreases.
The KPD, however, has also noted an increase in shots-fired reports in certain areas of the city. For instance, the number of reported shots-fired calls tripled in the downtown area and northeast side from May 1-Sept. 30, compared to the same time period in 2018, according to statistics provided by police.
I think what we are trying to get to here is, there’s a big difference between feelings and facts. People might feel unsafe, but the fact is crime has not gone up except for shots fired. Certainly, that’s a huge concern, and certainly there needs to be community policing. But what we’re dealing with right now, particularly here in journalism, are rumors about crime and rumors about Chicago and these HUD houses.
And we’ve looked at these hard numbers – we didn’t bring our feelings into it – we looked at the numbers and determined these are really ugly rumors that people feel but they don’t have any – all they have are anecdotes. They’re not looking at the actual figures and facts.
So, the question is: How do we, how do you, then say, we are a safe community? We could be better, obviously, we need more police officers. But how do you address people who are constantly giving these anecdotes that just simply aren’t true?
TM: Who’s saying they’re not true? The numbers? So, if you don’t mind my asking, how many KPD officers on the street have you interviewed?
SM: That’s anecdotal. We looked at the numbers that are put out by KPD to the FBI.
TM: Yeah, there’s calls for service. But when you’ve got police officers that say, ‘I see it happening. I call for backup, I’m not going to get any backup, so I don’t address it.’ Does that mean that crime is not occurring?
SM: I don’t know. I’m saying we looked at the numbers, not what people are feeling.
TM: And unfortunately, yes, numbers help tell a story and help support claims versus anecdotal claims. And that was one of the criticisms that I was given by using Elkhart as a comparison to Kokomo. ‘You know, well, look at the number of crimes being reported in Elkhart.’
Well, they’ve got however many more police officers than we do, so they can be more proactive. Sure, it just would, in my opinion, make sense that if you’ve got more officers being more proactive the calls for service are going to be higher.
So, does that mean if we take the number of police officers in Kokomo up to 91, 92, where we’re budgeted, will the number of crimes reported remain the same? You have people who say, ‘You can have 100 police officers, but it’s not going to deter crime.’ So if we increase the number of police officers and the level of crime stays stagnant or stays at a level that it is now with only 78, then, yeah, then the numbers are supported.
But right now what I’m hearing from individuals who I consider community leaders and individuals of influence in their neighborhoods, and even Kokomo police officers, that there’s a lot more going on than the numbers indicate.
Jeff Kovaleski: Yeah, there is, because police officers for years have been wanting to get more police officers.
TM: Right, for help. Right. To help address –
JK: How are you going to measure success? If you’re going to go take into consideration people’s feelings and not, like, look at facts, and you hire 20 new police officers and the numbers don’t change –
TM: Then we address it then.
JK: So then you fire police officers?
TM: If we have to. I mean, Greg Goodnight came in and laid off 12 firefighters.
JK: He did not have them on staff. They were ready to be hired and he said, ‘Those 11 people that we just said we were going to hire, we’re not going to bring them on.’
What you’re talking about is hiring and then if the numbers don’t support it taking them out. That’s something that you’d have a difficult time doing, just like a school superintendent would taking teachers out of a school.
TM: But I think that would show that I was being prudent about it, that I wouldn’t – if I see the need and then the need doesn’t justify it, then the removal would be justified, I would think.
GM: So hiring more police officers is solely about the amount of violent crime going on in the community? Is that what you’re saying?
TM: To help deter the amount of crime, yes.
SM: That brings up another issue about police officers. My understanding is that there is a lot of – I can’t say how many off the top of my head – but there are a bunch of officers who are getting ready to retire, so you’re also going to have a challenge replacing those officers.
How do you plan on attracting more police officers to the community?
TM: That’ll be a plan that I’ll put in place, or have input from both police and fire, because there’s an issue with the fire department as well. They’re aging. So getting with the leadership of both to come up with an aggressive plan to try and recruit both.
And part of that recruitment will be to look for diversification. Part of, again, that breakdown between the community and the police department is because of the lack of or the low numbers of minorities, primarily African-Americans, on really both departments but primarily KPD, that we’ve got to find a way to address that. It’s been an issue on the sheriff’s department as well.
As a couple of the church leaders from last Saturday’s conversation said, we’ve got kids that are excited, African-American kids that are excited to be police officers until they hit third or fourth grade. And then they get to middle school and that tapers off. And in high school forget about it.
There’s got to be a way to try and address that, and part of that is some type of aggressive approach to encourage and get more minorities on both of the departments.
A conversation ensued about the struggles Midwest communities have experienced diversifying police departments, with Karickhoff and Moore noting there are currently only two black Kokomo police officers. Karickhoff, referencing 1980s staffing levels, said he could “think of 10 [black police officers] off the top of my head.
“And they were majors and lieutenants and they were deeply embedded. It’s a different day.”
The conversation later returned to police staffing.
GM: It sounds like you’re saying those KPD crime-level numbers are as low as they are because there aren’t enough cops to make the necessary amount of arrests. Is that the point you’re making – that if the department was staffed properly those crime numbers would be higher?
TM: That would be my belief and what appears to be anecdotally the belief of many in the community.
SM: If this doesn’t shake out, where you get more police officers and the crime numbers stay the same, are you going to then come back and say, ‘The facts bear it out.’
TM: Sure. That’s definitely something we would take into consideration. For the same reason I’m being told or am under the belief that we need more to address more, if we’ve got them and the numbers don’t warrant and we feel that, hopefully working with the police, it’s not going to be a popular thing to do. … Again, the aging. If they age out and we don’t replace, then that’d be the easiest way, as opposed to going, ‘Nope, you guys are gone.’
SM: That brings up the issue too of this Chicago thing. What is your take on that?
TM: A lot of what is being discussed is rumored. We’re not busing people down from Chicago. The folks that have come from Chicago, even St. Louis, any other, those that have worked their way in, those from Chicago aren’t necessarily creating the problems.
There are some good people that are taking advantage of an opportunity in Kokomo and coming. Are some of the problems following them? Sure. With them coming in, are those bad players in Kokomo now seeing fresh blood and coming out of the woodwork? Sure.
There’s bad players and crime everywhere, but I think blaming it all on the folks from Chicago is unfortunate.
SM: Which is really a code-word for race.
TM: Oh, sure. It could be considered that, yeah. It’s unfortunate that the majority of folks – or the majority of the problems are being attributed to folks that are in from Chicago when, really, there’s bad players everywhere that have added to it.
It’s unfortunate that a lot that get reported do have Chicago ties, but they’re not the root of it. And I think a lot of that has been exaggerated.
GM: I want to bounce back real quick. You mention there’s a possibility that you could hire officers and if you don’t notice the uptick in violent crime, that you could then get rid of some officers.
But a lot of the conversation about increasing the police department has been about officer safety, officers not having someone to respond to back-up quickly enough, and then also community policing, that officers are constantly in a state of reacting instead of proactive policing.
Are you saying officer safety and proactive policing really aren’t playing a role when you consider hiring officers?
TM: No, I think that still plays a role. But I think the level, with the level of crime, that’s all part of it. Having the additional officers not only protects the community, it protects them as well. But I think that department, as with any department, as we add people, let people go, we’ll look at the effectiveness, efficiencies and such of every department, not just police, not just fire, but all of them, and as we continue to go down the road, and we’ll make adjustments where it’s warranted or where it appears to be necessary.