The Journal Gazette
Sunday, July 25, 2021 1:00 am

FWPD says its policies will meet updated rules

JAMIE DUFFY | The Journal Gazette

The Fort Wayne Police Department won't have to “reinvent the wheel” to comply with a new law designed to hold all state police departments accountable when it comes to bad officers, the department's internal affairs chief says.

“What the decertification process does is help prevent an officer getting in trouble in one agency and then moving on to another agency,” Capt. Kurtis Letz said. “We've always reported to ILEA (Indiana Law Enforcement Academy). They (the agency) would be notified that this person would no longer be employed by the FWPD.” 

The state confirmed two former Fort Wayne officers – Andrew Beck and Boyce Ballinger – are in the process of being decertified through the Indiana Law Enforcement Academy.

Beck pleaded guilty to child solicitation and child pornography possession and was sentenced this year to two years in prison. Ballinger resigned this year before the Board of Safety was to consider a petition to fire him. He pleaded guilty to strangulation and misdemeanor domestic battery, received a suspended sentence and is now on probation.

Officer Mark Rogers, convicted of raping a woman he pulled over for drunk driving on Sept. 1, 2013, was sentenced to six years in prison. 

“He's a felon and went to prison. There's no reason to decertify,” Letz said. In any case, the state would have been notified of Rogers because he no longer works for the Fort Wayne Police Department, Letz added. 

Officers have to be employed by a police agency to have police powers, Letz said. “The bill changes the way we report and are mandated to report specific involvement of officers who violate the law.”

Capt. Juan Barrientes, FWPD director of training, sends filings on officer certification and recertification directly to the Law Enforcement Training Board, an arm of the Indiana Law Enforcement Academy.

Barrientes said he was aware a couple of Fort Wayne decertification cases are before the state training board, but the police department doesn't have the number and names of decertified officers because the law did not mandate that step be taken.   

The new state law requires Indiana law enforcement agencies to report officers charged with felonies, misdemeanors or conduct that could be a criminal offense even if the officer is not charged, or if the officer is fired.

Barrientes says compliance with the new law will be fairly easy for the Fort Wayne Police Department.

“If we have an officer engaged in the disciplinary process, we determine if there are grounds for termination of employment. Then we would submit an application to the Law Enforcement Training Board to decertify the officer,” Barrientes said.

For the Fort Wayne Police Department, the disciplinary process starts with internal affairs, he added. 

“If we read the law, it pretty much spells it out when we would send it to them (the state agency). (We would be) required to send it 30 days after the disposition of discipline, after the chief makes a ruling, and we have 30 days to send it to the board,” Letz said. “If LETB gets information, they can request we do an internal investigation, but typically we would know before they would.”

Letz said the new law has more of an effect on smaller departments. “A lot of agencies don't have an internal affairs department,” he said. 

Fort Wayne's background checks, extensive training that lasts for 21 weeks rather than the state's recommended 16 weeks, and mandatory additional training every year in defensive tactics, firearms and emergency vehicle operations help prevent hiring bad officers. There's also scrutiny from the  internal affairs department, Letz said.

Lateral officers certified elsewhere still go through six weeks of training or more here, Barrientes said, and are needed to keep the ranks full. Currently, the lateral class has five officers who are transferring from Sacramento, California; New York City and Las Vegas, among other agencies. 

Barrientes believes the new decertification effort “came as a nationwide review of police practices broadly. I think some of the things are very redundant in nature to the extent that many agencies across the state do a wonderful job of training and maintaining professional standards,” he said. 

Barrientes said people might want to compare police practices here to the actions of former Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin, caught on video with his knee to the neck of George Floyd, a police-involved death that sparked international protests in May and June last year.

“As an example, if you look across the state, when was the last time we had such an example of heinous police brutality? Name one time when the actions of the police shocked the conscience of community they serve?” Barrientes said.

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