Karen Celestino-Horseman

A Major Setback for Women and the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department

Filed By Karen Celestino-Horseman | June 20, 2007 11:15 AM | comments

Filed in: Living, The Movement
Tags: Bettye Dobkins, feminism, guest post, IMPD, Indiana, Indianapolis, Karen Celestino-Horseman, lesbian, police, sexism

Like so many of us, I have quietly watched the consolidation of the Indianapolis Police Department and the Marion County Sheriff's Department into the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department. I have trusted that we would get past the rough patches and that the differences between the rank and file and leadership would eventually work itself out. But in good conscience, I cannot keep quiet any longer in the face of blatant politics prevailing over good sense and the sensibility of what is right for the people.

In case you have not heard, Bettye Dobkins was demoted from Downtown District Major to Lieutenant. And I, for one, cannot keep quiet about an intelligent, qualified officer being demoted for such obvious departmental political reasons.

Lt. Dobkins was in charge of the downtown district. Following the consolidation, the downtown district increased in size by approximately 100 blocks or 40%. No new officers were assigned to the district to cover the increased patrol area. Despite the increase in the size of the district and the effective reduction in the number of patrol officers, the crime rate in the downtown district actually decreased. In fact, it was the only IMPD district to record a decrease in crime. Now, when the crime rate is climbing all around the city - in every other police district BUT the downtown district - someone is attempting to claim Lt. Dobkins had performance problems? It is also interesting to note that although performance problems was the proffered excuse for Lt. Dobkins' demotion, I have heard there were no documented complaints regarding her performance.

Being a leader requires not only the vision to succeed but also the ability to inspire the men and women who work for you. Given the success in fighting crime in the district, the patrol officers were obviously doing their job under Dobkins. According to the rank and file officers with whom I have spoken, Lt. Dobkins was very well-regarded and well-respected by the men and women over whom she had charge. Given the rank and file's disenchantment with consolidation, and, by extension, to IMPD leadership, Dobkins' ability to earn the trust and confidence of her officers hardly sounds like a performance problem.

In the eyes of many in the community, Bettye Dobkins had come to represent more than just an accomplished and successful public safety officer. She was among the highest ranking women in the male-dominated, testosterone charged IMPD. Dobkins was the highest ranking woman working outside of IMPD headquarters. The fact that Dobkins could succeed in the IMPD offered inspiration and hope to other women.

As Ruth Holladay notes, there are 13 persons at the rank of major or higher within IMPD. Of the 13, there were three women: Lt. Dobkins, Assistant Chief for Support Services Eva Talley Sanders and Operations Deputy Chief Pat Holman. Following the demotion of Bettye Dobkins, there remain 13 persons at the rank of major or higher but now there are only two women sharing top leadership. Bettye Dobkins' spot as major was given to Larry Jahnke, whom I understand is a decent guy but apparently better connected to Operations Deputy Chief Bart McAtee, the man who made the decision to demote Lt. Dobkins. Major Jahnke, formerly with the Marion County Sheriff's Department, lost his rank with the consolidation. Apparently someone figured out how he could make it back up the ladder.

So there you have it - a competent, accomplished and qualified officer was demoted. The stated reason was poor performance but given Dobkins' track record, one has to ask what was the real reason for her demotion? While I have not heard this spurred her demotion, Dobkins is a lesbian, something she did not attempt to hide given her long-time relationship with her partner. This probably did not enhance her status among those at the top (particularly as one of those fellows has been heard to make disparaging remarks questioning another male's sexuality when they thought a telephone connection had been broken). What a very discouraging event so soon after the city enacted the Human Rights Ordinance.

I cannot blame Major Jahnke, but I can fault IMPD for failing to recognize that this community is not only composed of men but also women. I can fault IMPD for failing to recognize that over half the population of this county is female which is certainly not reflected in the leadership ranks of the IMPD. And I can certainly fault IMPD for playing departmental politics when they should have been watching out for our best interests. In a time of increasing crime, demoting an experienced crime fighter with real street experience is hardly in the best interest of anyone, except for - as Ruth Holladay notes - a few good ole' boys.

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Zach Adamson | June 21, 2007 11:43 PM

I dont understand whats up with all that.. Living on the near eastside.. and owning a business in the downtown district.. I dont understand.. I recently read an article that says this move was more a result of a heated discussion between Bette and Chief Spears. My question again, is who does this move best serve.. I know for a fact, from the clamor of the Near eastside.. people are all up in arms.... and as Karen says.. you cant argue with results.. So.. I ask... What the F##K.... Do we as citizens not count any more..? Do the decisions that our local government make not have to have our best interest at heart? Is this all just a game??? My head is exploding..!!!!