News and Tribune

June 4, 2014

OUR OPINION: New Albany needs transparency from NAPD

Police officers need public’s trust to do their jobs


— Recent events involving a New Albany Police Department officer and the reassignment of the chief and assistant chief have raised questions about the state of the department.

Many of those questions remain unanswered, jeopardizing the public’s trust in the NAPD.

The city’s administration is doing a poor job of communicating with you, our readers, and it’s not from a lack of asking questions by the media — including this outlet.

Take for example a story published in Monday’s News and Tribune regarding NAPD Sgt. Gary Humphrey’s involvement in a physical altercation in mid-December during a film festival, which was open to the public at The Grand.

Yes, you read that correctly — mid-December.

The News and Tribune, working on a tip, began trying to get information on that incident weeks ago. We later received the police report, which led to the story in Monday’s edition.

New Albany police were called to the theater after an argument between Humphrey and a woman turned physical. The woman struck Humphrey, who was off duty and attending the film festival, but accounts of how much force he used against the woman and the language he used that may have provoked the strike vary. Getting further on-the-record details beyond that police report has proved difficult.

Multiple requests for information related to the incident were made to the Office of the Floyd County Prosecutor — which has not responded — and former NAPD chief Sherri Knight would not comment publicly because she no longer heads the police department.

Newly appointed Chief Todd Bailey said Thursday he will not comment on The Grand incident and said that any questions related to the matter should be directed to the city’s legal department.

Requests for an interview with Mayor Jeff Gahan — made through head of city operations Mike Hall — to discuss the matter have not been facilitated.

The News and Tribune also reported on another incident involving Humphrey that led to responses from the NAPD and the Indiana State Police.

Humphrey is accused of breaking into a residence connected to Bread and Breakfast, a downtown New Albany business, in April. A grand jury that convened to consider the matter returned no charges, and NAPD and the ISP have declined to release any information other than very basic details, despite requests from the News and Tribune and other media outlets.

The lack of communication and transparency hurts all parties involved. Rumors become taken as facts and the department and the city appear like they are covering for one of their own, whether or not Humphrey did anything inappropriate or illegal.

Some city council members have taken note. Bailey appeared before the council Monday, where he was greeted with questions about the police department’s handling of the investigations. Bailey said he will provide more information to the council in the coming weeks. Hopefully, that will come in the forum of a public meeting, so it can be reported.

As for The Grand incident, there are still more questions than answers. At Monday’s council meeting, Councilman John Gonder finally spoke up after almost six months. He said he spoke with the woman involved in the incident in December, who told Gonder she feels “intimidated” by the process, he said Monday. Councilman Dan Coffey called for more transparency.

We couldn’t agree more.

The News and Tribune has been privy to many off-the-record conversations about both incidents involving Humphrey. Very few sources agreed to give information with attribution for an article, including the parties involved in the two incidents.

One thing that can be reported from several of those conversations is that there are officers within the department who are concerned about how it’s being run and how the administration has handled the incidents involving Humphrey.

There also are questions from the public; some have been asked on online forums and social media; and many more have surely been discussed at dinner tables and water coolers. These questions not only involve Humphrey’s actions, but also the circumstances surrounding the reassignments of the chief and assistant chief.

The problem is that many — if not all — of those questions or assumptions involve rumors or second-hand information.

The city has failed its residents in not getting out facts to the people that pay the salaries of the police officers and the administration. These were two situations where the city’s police department responded to an incident involving one of its officers, which makes it even more imperative for transparency than with the average police run.

The city’s police leadership and administration should have sent out a news release or called a press conference as soon as possible after each incident and explained that an officer had been involved in a police call, and detailed what steps would be taken to fully investigate them.

That’s not feasible now, but here’s another idea.

We propose that Mayor Jeff Gahan and new NAPD Chief Todd Bailey call a town hall meeting with the press and public to discuss how it will be more transparent moving forward with incidents involving NAPD officers.

The city owes it to the taxpayers and its law enforcement officers, and it will pay off for the police department in the long run. If the city is unwilling to be transparent, people will always suspect there’s something to hide.

A trusted police department is a more effective one.

— The News and Tribune editorial board is comprised of Publisher Bill Hanson, Editor Shea Van Hoy and Assistant Editors Chris Morris and Jason Thomas. Responses can be emailed to shea.vanhoy@newsandtribune.com