To serve and protect. We see those words emblazoned on police cruisers across the country. But there is discontent in the ranks of the Evansville Police Department.
Members of the Evansville FOP cast their vote of no confidence in their leader Chief Billy Bolin. The vote was overwhelming.
Today Chief Bolin joined Eyewitness News’ Brad Byrd for a special in-depth segment on his reaction to the vote and where we go from here.
Brad Byrd: Chief Bolin, were you surprised by the size of the majority of this no confidence vote?
Billy Bolin: Unfortunately, I was not.
Brad Byrd: Why is that?
Billy Bolin: I’ve been in the shop 8 years, our FOP is very strong, they like to fight with police administrations who have been in the department for over 21 years now, and every Chief I’ve worked under has been according to the FOP been the worst administration we’ve ever had. And there’s always conflict. And when I went through the chief school back in 2012 – every new chief has to go up to the state academy of chief school – the instructor for the law portion said did I hear we have a new chief down in Evansville this year? And I raised my hand and I said yes sir, I am. And he said god help you, that FOP is going to sue you and fight you over everything.
Brad Byrd: Looking back through history, we could not find any instance historically that the FOP had actually undertaken a no confidence vote.
Billy Bolin: It’s my understanding it’s the first time that’s happened here.
Brad Byrd: How do you feel about that?
Billy Bolin: Well, I’ve been paying attention to the national events going on around the country and anybody can go on Google and do a quick search – this is a new trend, it’s happening all around the country. Police departments all over are having them a week before this came up – not even a whole week. Our leadership of the FOP and some of the retirees that were in on this, were all together down in New Orleans at the annual FOP Convention and within that week that they get back, they’re wanting to have this vote. It’s becoming a thing of the norm around the country – you can get on Google and find some that have happened recently in our country.
Brad Byrd: And there were 7 questions on this no confidence vote – the percentages ranged from 70% to 82% – for example, has Chief Bolin’s elimination of the traditional chain of command improved performance and morale within the ranks of the Evansville Police Department? 80% say no.
Billy Bolin: Right. And what I did when I came in is I tried to give power to the lower level – the sergeants, the lieutenants – to run their areas in the department. So, for instance in years past, before I was chief, if we had an opening in our Crime Prevention Unit, if we had an opening in the detective office, they would get to interview and talk to people then, they would submit a list to the chief – these are the 5 or 6 people that we like. Then the chief would say this is who you get. I took that power completely away from myself. I empowered the lower level supervisors and said you pick your people and you handle things in your areas and now I am having backlash for doing it that way. So, things like that I am absolutely willing to sit down and talk with them. If they want us to revisit the old ways of doing business, I made these decisions thinking it would spread the power base.
Brad Byrd: They site that you’ve lowered the number of motor patrol officers – I believe the number they were using down to about 110 – and they’re saying that is one of the reasons why violent crime is on the increase under your watch. What do you say to that?
Billy Bolin: In the press conference you had earlier today from Jason Cullum, he addresses those numbers in detail and as you saw, a lot of those numbers are completely false, they’re completely fabricated, and we can show on paper where those numbers aren’t correct. Now, we are short right now in patrol as departments all over the country, and the national FOP will tell you this, the Indiana Chief of Police Association, which I sit on the Board of Directors of, will tell you this; it’s a nationwide epidemic, it’s not a great time to be a law enforcement officer so, people aren’t wanting to go into this profession, people are leaving this profession, and our officers in Evansville, are rightfully looking at me and saying what are you going to do about it? We’re trying to figure it out. We’re currently working with the FOP, our attorney, the city’s attorney for the police department and the FOP attorney met earlier this week on ideas we’ve been talking about with the FOP president. So, when they say they’re trying to open a dialogue that dialogue is going, we’re working together now to figure out these answers.
Brad Byrd: But some part of that dialogue, there have been some who say you’re a master of PR and that many of the programs you’re pushing the community outreach are basically a publicity stunt. What do you say to that?
Billy Bolin: It is publicity. We are in an era, where police don’t want to become police officers, people don’t like police officers, they don’t trust us. We need to be doing all we can to build those relationships, to reach out. You’ve had me on here, you’ve seen me, I’m not a promote Billy Bolin. I don’t throw my name out; Jason Cullum does the overwhelming amount of our stuff. I’m not running for office, I’m never going to run for sheriff, I’m not running for mayor. I’ve never had an interest. I’m promoting law enforcement; I’m trying to build relationships. I don’t know where that’s seen as a negative thing that I’m trying to paint the Evansville Police Department and Evansville as a whole in good light.
Brad Byrd: Well, this is out now, Chief Bolin and the perception is reality sometimes for a lot of folks, a lot of citizens to serve and protect. But that perception is the department law enforcement with the largest Tri-State police force – is that being compromised simply because of this no confidence vote?
Billy Bolin: I don’t think. And that’s where at the beginning you asked me if I was surprised – I’ve worked under this tense field relationship for seven and a half years. It’s typically behind the scenes, under the surface – the public doesn’t see it. Two and a half years ago, they were threatening to do this very thing. I’m well aware of their opinions of me. The public hasn’t seen this, but you’re receiving the same policing services that we had under my whole administration. That’s not going to change. I’m not vindictive, I’m not out to get the guys. I’m hearing that a lot in their comments that they’re afraid of retaliation – there’s not an example out there of me doing that.
Brad Byrd: How do you fix this then?
Billy Bolin: You continue to work with them, you continue to try. I’ve never pulled myself off the table. We have monthly labor management meetings. I have an open-door policy – the FOP president knows that he can walk into my office at any time without an appointment. I’m very open to meeting with him.
Brad Byrd: Well, Sgt. DJ Thompson, the FOP president, is scheduled to be on In-Depth next Tuesday. The question I have for you and I have not posed this to him yet, but I’m going to. After these independent appearances, you’re going to be on tonight, we’re taping this in the afternoon, but it’s going to air tonight. Would you be willing to sit down –
Billy Bolin: Yes.
Brad Byrd: With him sitting right here where you are right now to talk to him about the issues facing this community?
Billy Bolin: Absolutely! I’d be more than glad to.
Brad Byrd: With that being said, have you been talking to him through any of this process?
Billy Bolin: We’ve had a little bit of communication. He disappoints me in that he wants to run to the media and do these things. And I know I was accused of oh, you’re the first one to make this public – we had people in the news media calling us already. They had already said they were going to have this vote and I just put it out on my terms. He knows he’s got an open door with me; he knows he can meet with me, he was meeting with the mayor, there are those open lines already.
Brad Byrd: But this has to sting a little bit, doesn’t it? You’ve been involved with law enforcement for more than 20 years?
Billy Bolin: Yes, I have. I started my career here in Henderson about 24 going on 25 years ago and I’ve been in Evansville for about 21. Would this have stung 7 years ago? Yes. Today? No. I’m used to it. This is what I’ve been dealing with behind the scenes and I’m telling you every Chief I’ve ever worked under has had similar circumstances. Brad Hill, who was prior to me, I’ve apologized to him about a thousand times since I’ve been in this job for criticisms, I had of him because I had been told by the FOP leadership what a horrible man he was, how bad he was. Russ Lloyd, the former Mayor, I picketed the man’s house. I’m friends with Russ now. But the FOP leadership told us that that was the worst administration we’d dealt with. It’s what I’ve grown up with at the Evansville Police Department, it’s what I currently work with, do I want my officers to think that of me? No. I want to make no mistake, we have great police officers, there’s a lot of great officers that have a negative opinion of me. But that’s because of what the FOP leadership has taught them and told them. They’re still doing a great job – great people and when I encounter them and we talk at the department, it’s not adversarial – we have conversations, we laugh, we joke, I think they just feel pressured into doing this vote. Anyone who sees me out in the public with our officers – you don’t see us in hate-filled rants or where we don’t like each other. So, it’s an unfortunate dispute that’s made its way into the public. But I think we got one of the best Police Departments in the country and you’re still going to see the product we’ve been putting out for the past 8 years.
FOP President Sgt. DJ Thompson will join Eyewitness News’ Brad Byrd next Tuesday for in-depth at 9 p.m. on CW 7.
Brad Byrd contacted Sgt. Thompson after this taped interview and asked him about a joint appearance with Chief Bolin. He didn’t commit but said he would think about it.
The reason for this is to possibly have some type of civil discourse about law enforcement in today’s world of social media rants that might be refreshing.
(This story was originally published on September 19, 2019)