Brad Byrd: This is InDEPTH. The times we live- for millions of Americans, the outrage of the George Floyd killing while in police custody continues and more protests are coming. For law enforcement officers here in Evansville, a threshold has been crossed. Do we have a problem here? Joining me now is Evansville Police Chief Billy Bolin. It’s good to see you tonight, Chief, and let’s put this in human perspective, if you will- you’ve been an officer of the law for 25 years now. Why did you want to wear the badge and become a cop?
Billy Bolin: You know, the first time I can remember telling somebody I wanted to be a police officer, I was working at the old Kmart on Morgan Avenue. I worked in loss prevention, which is catching shoplifters and we would have to call the police department when we caught a shoplifter for them to come out and arrest them. And several of the officers that come in, quite frankly, would treat us, the loss prevention guys, horribly. And one of my good friends, Brian Brown, who’s on the Evansville Police Department with me now, worked with me then. And one of the days we had an officer come in, he was very rude to us and [I thought] man, I would love to do that job someday to do it the right way, to not treat people like that, to not abuse my power. And so honestly, a lot of what we’re fighting against today is the whole reason I wanted to get into this career in the first place.
Brad Byrd: And here we are, 25 years later. How has the George Floyd death and fallout affected not only you, but your fellow officers, how you view yourself and how you view your job now?
Billy Bolin: You know, it’s really tough. It is. The mood around the police department, talking to other officers, – we know that those officers out there don’t represent us. We know that’s not how we do business, how we teach officers, how we carry ourselves. And when you’re constantly berated and if you’re on social media, you see all the negative that’s flying out. You know, you walk out the front door of the police department and there’s people across the street screaming at you asking you, why don’t you do something with your life? You know, I know what I’ve done with my life and I know I do a lot of good. And for me, I’m secure. But for a younger officer that may be new at this, they’re probably questioning themselves – why did I go into this? Why do I want to do a job where I’m doing my best every day to constantly have people telling me how horrible I am? It’s, it’s not deserved. It’s unfair. And we shouldn’t look at any profession at a small little group and say their whole profession is like that. There are doctors that make mistakes. We don’t hate all doctors or teachers or news members. So I would ask the public not to do that.
Brad Byrd: Perception, unfortunately, in an unfair world is a reality for people. Recent polling shows a majority of Americans say they support the protests and agree police violence against the public is a serious issue. How does that hit you right now, especially, you know, we’re in the middle of a pandemic and first responders have been, especially healthcare workers and police officers, firefighters have been in relatively high esteem up until about well, at least in the police side up until about two weeks ago. How does that hit you that that polling itself?
Billy Bolin: You know, it hurts. And frankly, I blame a lot of that on the news media and their reporting of it. And we see one case at one part in the country and it’s blanketed on all of us and I would say any case of police brutality is one too many. It’s unacceptable. It shouldn’t happen. And we have had cases here in Evansville as well, we’re not exempt. But when you look at the amount of runs and the amount of contacts we have with the citizens, and you see the minute amount that make up the questionable ones, I think it’s unfair to put that on all of us. It really is.
Brad Byrd- Talk of defunding police departments- Minneapolis is heading that way, other cities are seriously taking a look. Well, the Mayor of Evansville last night, Mayor Winnecke, told me that is not on the table in Evansville. But do you feel though there should be some reform in the EPD? I know you’ve been working closely with Reverend Gerald Arnold, who’s the president of the local NAACP.
Billy Bolin: I wouldn’t say we need reform, there’s always going to be fine tuning always gonna be changes and, you know, 30 years from now, they’re going to be looking at ways to change and make things better. So we should always be looking at that. Are there things that we could be doing a little different now? Absolutely. And this is making us take a long, hard look at everything we do and see what we could change what we could do better. But as far as like mass reform, no, I think we’re already ahead of the curve. I think we’re already doing the right things. But as with anybody, there’s always room for improvement.
Brad Byrd: Recruiting officers is a big challenge and especially now recruiting African Americans to the force. That has been a challenge for some time. Will it be even a bigger one now after what’s been going on in the past two weeks here in Evansville?
Billy Bolin: Oh, absolutely. It’s gonna be a huge one all over the country, and I think when you have a community of people that don’t like us, don’t trust us, why would you want to go be one of them? And I’ve said this to numerous community groups, and sometimes they get upset with me over it, But it’s the truth. And that’s once we get an officer of color on our department, the community needs to embrace them, they need to reach out to them. They don’t need to demonize them. And that’s exactly what I see. It’s harder in today’s world to be a black police officer than it is to be a white police officer. Their own community turns on them. They call them names, they make fun of them, they call them sellouts. If you want policing to change, you should encourage people that look like you to do it. And then once they’re doing it, support them in that, don’t make fun of them and turn on them because they’re trying to help their community.
Brad Byrd: Community policing, face to face with those you are sworn to protect and serve- is that working here? I know there have been a lot of projects that you have been involved in reaching out to members of the black community. But is it really working? Are you really connecting?
Billy Bolin: I think we are. I think there’s still a disconnect and I think any urban environment, any police department that’s got an urban city core in the country is struggling. That being said, I think we’re ahead of most, I think we do have really good relationships here. I think a lot of people in the community do trust the police department. Is there still issues and a lot of people that don’t?Absolutely, but that’s why we keep doing the outreach we do and we’re going to have to keep on pounding it more and more and more. And a lot of times, it’s the one on one connections, once we can get to know somebody on an individual level, they grow to trust us, they grow to know us. A great example would be our cops connecting with kids Disney program. We’ve got kids now graduating high school that went with us to Disney. Hopefully, they’re gonna walk away from that, knowing that, you know, some of these police officers are really good people that do care about me, that do want the best for me. And I think the more we do that, we’re playing long ball, we’re not playing short. So it’s the long term, if we can win them over one by one, hopefully it’s gonna matter in our community.
Brad Byrd: Chief Billy Bolin, we will continue this conversation in the months ahead and appreciate your time and take care and stay safe.
Billy Bolin: Thank you Brad.