Sunday, August 12, 2007

Remembering some of the good old days of corruption.

CITY POLICE CORRUPTION EXPOSED bannered in the Indianapolis Star on the last Sunday in February. The steamy series (60 installments are planned) has so far lived up to its billing. Among Star allegations: many officers are involved in prostitution, both as paid "protectors" and nonpaying patrons. Police shakedowns of drug pushers and users are "a way of life" in the Indianapolis underworld. Some policemen regularly traffic in stolen goods.

Such findings are the yield of six months of hard digging by three Star reporters: Bill Anderson, 48, Harley Bierce, 32, Dick Cady, 33, assisted by Photographer Jerry Clark, 34. The quartet depended heavily on clandestine meetings with over 400 informants, nearly 60 of them policemen. They tape-recorded every scrap of information. The work had its hazards: the reporters were often trailed by the police, and telephoned threats became common.

Public Shock. The story posed another kind of problem for Star Publisher Eugene C. Pulliam, 84, and his son Eugene S., 59, assistant publisher of both the Star and the Indianapolis News. For six years their conservative papers have firmly backed Republican Mayor Richard Lugar, and the exposé came just as Lugar was launching a senatorial campaign against Democratic Incumbent Birch Bayh, a Pulliam target.

The Star did hold up publication for two months so that the FBI could look into the evidence for possible federal violations. Despite the embarrassment to Lugar, the younger Pulliam decided the story could wait no longer. "It's more important," he told Star Managing Editor Bob Early, "to clean up a corrupt police department than to worry about winning an election."

As public shock at the series spread, Lugar defensively pointed out the difference between an anonymous tipster and a grand-jury witness. He said citizens had sometimes brought him charges similar to those running in the Star. "When I've asked them to testify under oath before the Marion County grand jury," he complained, "many disappear." But Lugar's problem did not. Questions about police corruption began popping up at speeches given well outside Indianapolis, and Lugar decided to deal with the issue at home. He formed a seven-man committee to study the police department, began interviewing some policemen himself. Finally, he fired the chief of police, a deputy and the city safety director. Then the mayor brought in a former Secret Service agent to clean house.

Lugar readily admits that the Star series goaded him into action. Despite the police department's success at solving homicide cases and curbing violent crime, corruption in the force has been an open Secret in Indianapolis for years. Lugar says that "in my six years we've removed ten people from the police department, and this is not an easy thing to do." The Star has made it easier for the mayor, and Assistant Publisher Pulliam thinks that the series may even boost Lugar's election chances: "It has given him name recognition he never had before."

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