The Anderson Police Department needs an immediate and extreme change in leadership.
A pattern of problems has undermined public trust and confidence in the APD. The problems trace — some directly, others indirectly — to the department's chief, Tony Watters.
While it would be unfair to say that Watters is to blame for all of the department's troubles, as the CEO of local police, he is ultimately accountable for the overall behavior, responsiveness and effectiveness of the Anderson police force.
The problems are so deep-seated that Watters should resign. If the chief doesn't do so, Mayor Tom Broderick should demote him. In either case, the mayor must seek a new chief from outside the department, rather than promoting from within.
Like past APD chiefs, Watters, a 30-year veteran of the police department, is a political insider. Watters has been the Democratic Party's Ward 2 chairman in Anderson and actively campaigned for Broderick, also a Democrat, in the 2016 mayoral election.
A new chief unsullied by local politics, unburdened by personal loyalties and free of a business-as-usual mentality is exactly what the department needs and what Andersonians deserve.
A variety of problems have beset the department:
• Chief Watters' son, Adam, was brought onto the force under a cloud of nepotism and favoritism. The younger Watters was given preferential seniority treatment among the four officers hired Oct. 13, 2017, according to a grievance filed by the Anderson Fraternal Order of Police.
Departing from the standard protocol of officers being sworn in according to alphabetical order, Adam Watters had been moved to the front of the class, leapfrogging Sean Brady, Andrew Lanane and Courtney Skinner.
• In the less than two years since he joined the APD, Adam Watters has been in trouble at least three times. In May 2018, he entered a bar with a person under 21, his sister, who consumed alcoholic drinks. Late one night in February 2019, he was stopped by the Indiana State Police for driving 90 mph in a 45-mph zone on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. And in early June, the younger Watters was arrested by state police on suspicion of attacking his girlfriend.
• The last incident involving Adam Watters led to allegations that Chief Watters accosted state police who came to his home to arrest his son.
• In April 2017, the city of Anderson paid $2,000 to Jason Winters after the Anderson man complained that he'd been verbally and physically assaulted by APD Officer John Wilson. The internal investigation of Wilson's behavior took four months, during which the officer was on paid leave, meaning the police department, essentially, billed taxpayers for about $15,000 to $20,000 for the officer to be on vacation. Afterward, Wilson served a five-day suspension without pay.
• Family members of Rick N. Turner, 39, whose body was found May 25 near the White River in Anderson say police declined to issue a missing person alert, then failed to return phone calls from the family to report additional information. According to Debbie Turner, the APD appeared to “jump to conclusions” about why her son was missing. Officers should "act like they are listening to us instead of making us feel like we are being brushed off,” she said.
• Timothy Adkins remained on the APD's missing persons list for almost a year after family discovered he was in the Dearborn County Jail. When the family approached the APD to have Adkins removed from the list, they say, police told them Adkins would have to come to the police department in person to verify he was no longer missing. Adkins, of course, was incarcerated in Dearborn County and couldn't do that.
• When police responded June 20 to a request by The Herald Bulletin for information about Mona Davis, 53, whose coworker had reported her missing, a department spokesman told the newspaper that they'd done a welfare check and Davis was not missing. Later that day, officers found her body in her Anderson apartment. APD officers had checked her apartment at least twice before and had not found her body. Bonnie Joslin, a daughter of Davis, is now held on suspicion of murder.
• A street performer complained in early July to the Anderson Civilian Review Board that Chief Watters had bullied him one afternoon on Meridian Street. City Councilwoman Jennifer Culp was in the park and saw but couldn't hear the conversation. “He (O’Brien) wasn’t doing anything wrong,” she said. “I could tell he was frustrated.”
“My concern is the way he conducted himself,” O’Brien said of Watters. “I don’t want any more interaction with him (Watters). I want people to be aware of how he’s treating me.”
• In an article published in today's paper, Angela Heichel details the failure of the APD to investigate and charge an Anderson teen who assaulted her 13-year-old daughter twice within the past 13 months. Videos of the attacks, including one that was posted on the assailant's Facebook page, show the girl pulling the victim to the floor by the hair and punching, slapping and kicking her in the face.
• Parents complained about the attitude and responsiveness of police after, the parents said, a 14-year-old boy and three fifth-grade girls were attacked in March by other juveniles in downtown Anderson. “The two officers that were called to the scene when I showed up did not take any pictures at all of our children’s injuries,” said Bobbi Price, the boy's mother. “They didn’t even give us a case number. They left.”
One or two of these instances might be explained away by police, given the sheer volume of reports they receive. But the full list reflects systemic disorganization, unethical behavior, lack of responsiveness, carelessness, failure to follow through and institutional arrogance.
The problems all point back to the department's leadership and Chief Watters.
Mayor Broderick must make a change quickly, bringing in a new, politically unaffiliated leader from outside the police department to overthrow old attitudes and create a culture of integrity.
The police officers of Anderson, many of whom perform their duties conscientiously, should have clear direction that their job is to serve the people of Anderson — and to do it with care, diligence and impeccable ethics.