Carmel’s Incoming Chief of Police Jeff Horner
We are pleased to feature on the cover of our last issue of 2021 Carmel Police Department’s (CPD) incoming chief of police, Jeff Horner. Horner will succeed Chief Jim Barlow, who will officially retire on Jan. 7, 2022, after a 38-year career with CPD, the last five years as chief of police. Mayor Jim Brainard appointed Deputy Chief Jeff Horner as Barlow’s replacement. Horner has been with CPD since 1994. We sat down with Horner to discuss his beginnings in public safety, his working up the ranks and the direction that CPD will go in under his leadership. Taking Horner’s place as deputy chief of administration will be Lt. Joe Bickel, who has also been with CPD since 1994 and was appointed by Horner on Dec. 14, 2021.
A Calling to Serve and Protect
Horner received his bachelor’s degree from Ball State University and is a graduate of the FBI National Academy. He began his career with the Carmel Police Department in January 1994.
Prior to all of that, Horner shared that he first realized his interest in public safety at the age of 12. He grew up in Pennsylvania listening to his uncle’s captivating stories about being police officer. Horner and his family moved to Indiana when he was 17, and upon graduating from Yorktown High School, Horner went to Ball State University, where he studied criminal justice and sociology.
“I always had an inquisitive personality where I wanted to see what was going on and why it was going on,” Horner shared. “As a police officer, you kind of get that back scene pass and you can find out what’s going on and why it’s happening.”
Horner added with sincerity, “I also wanted to help people. And while I was studying criminal justice and sociology [at Ball State], it furthered my interest in this line of work.”
The Development of a Future Police Chief
Before the onset of Googling job openings on the internet, Horner had to seek employment opportunities the “old-fashioned” analog way.
“I was at the Ball State library looking through this big book of police agencies in the state and made phone calls to see if any of those [agencies] were hiring,” Horner said. “At that time, Carmel happened to be one of the places that I drove to, picked up an application and applied to.”
The City of Carmel at that time was a population of around 30,000, and Mayor Brainard had yet to be elected.
Horner added, “It was a much smaller community back then. There might have been 47–48 policer officers [at CPD] when I came here.”
Upon Brainard’s election and as the city began to undergo a massive transformation and population increase, it was necessary for CPD to keep up the pace and expand its roster.
“As you can imagine, as the city grew, the [police] department had to follow suit,” Horner said. “There was a lot of hiring in the early 1990s and into the late ’90s. As part of that rapid hiring, a lot of us younger officers stepped up into roles that we probably wouldn’t have had, if not for the fact we were growing so quickly.”
Horner spent the first 13 years on the department in the Operations Division, where he was promoted to the rank of lieutenant. He then spent several years supervising the School Resource Unit, acting as the department’s Public Information Officer and managing special events.
In January 2017, he was appointed to major of the Operations Division and then to deputy chief of administration in 2018. Horner served as one of the department’s defensive tactics instructors for 25 years and 17 years on the SWAT team, six of those years as the SWAT commander.
Evolving With the Times
When asked what some of the more significant changes to the way CPD officers do their jobs are since he joined the department, Horner said, “When I came on, we didn’t have computers in our cars. We had radios. And you found your way around the city with a big three-ring binder that had all the [city’s] maps in it. Dispatch would give you a code, and you look it up on the map. Quite different from nowadays.”
Today, every single CPD officer has a laptop in their car, GPS, in-car police dash camera, and police body cameras.
Horner also spoke about the department’s national accreditations that it has earned and why he thinks it makes CPD a stronger and more professional department.
“I think, internally, these accreditations keep us all very professional and very well trained,” Horner stated. “The percentage of [public safety] agencies that are accredited is pretty small in this country. We think of ourselves as a ‘profession’ and being accredited helps us get to that [higher] level of professionalism.”
Horner also spoke about the importance of CPD’s transparency to the community.
“That is something that is very important to us,” Horner emphasized. “We do realize that there’s been a reputation or a belief among some members of the community that we’re not [transparent]. I think one area that we’ve failed at in the past and have tried to be better at—under Chief Barlow’s direction—is letting people know what we’re doing and to be as transparent as possible. We have nothing to hide, and we’ve created things that make us more transparent, such as, we have an online and interactive traffic dashboard that details all of traffic stops.”
Horner said this dashboard allows people to look at things like gender, race and different types of traffic stops.
“All of our policies and procedures are now forward facing and are available to the public to pull up and review,” Horner stated. “We have also made all of ‘use of force’ data and complaint data available to the public on Carmel’s website [carmel.in.gov].”
CPD Expansion and Renovation Project
As previously reported, CPD is planning a renovation to its existing building as well as an expansion that will provide the department the necessary space to accommodate its growth.
“As the community continues to grow, the police station needs to grow along with it,” Horner said. “We are constantly hiring, and we’ve been out of space. We have people working off-site, and we’ve got storage units that rent out throughout the city to store items that no longer fit in here. We need to expand our investigators division, and this building expansion will allow all of that to happen.”
In addition, the expansion will allow the court to move from city hall to the new building as well, providing more space for the city court and enhanced security.
“This project will more than double our size, and we will have an awesome training room that can also be used for community events and our community outreach programs,” Horner shared. “We will be able to increase our abilities and will be able to better serve the community.”
The renovations will be completed in multiple phases, and the expansion construction on the site where the Huntington Bank is located will break ground in July of 2022.
Paying Homage to Chief Barlow
Throughout his career with CPD, Horner has worked with and/or reported directly to Chief Barlow, and Horner attributes much of his development, throughout his ranks and now as incoming chief of police, to the lessons he’s learned from Barlow.
“Chief Barlow and I have a unique history because I’ve worked with him numerous times,” Horner shared. “We’ve worked together a lot throughout the years, and we were on the SWAT team together. He was a commander when I was on the team. And for the last five years, he’s been chief and I’ve been deputy chief of administration. You learn a lot from your leaders, but I can definitely say he’s been one of those positive influences on my career.”
Horner learned how to navigate department budgets and effectively run a first-class police department.
“The last few years have been really interesting because I’ve learned aspects of this job such as how the budgets work and the training and equipment purchases that we have to be responsible for. He’s taught me how to navigate through all those things correctly and how to keep the department running efficiently.”
Looking Into 2022 and Beyond
As Horner prepares to take his place at the helm of CPD, we asked him if he is hopeful for the future of not only CPD but the law enforcement industry as a whole.
“Yes, I am hopeful,” Horner said with conviction. “The last couple of years have been a struggle for law enforcement, and I’d like to think we [CPD] have navigated through those couple of years fairly successfully. There’s a lot of initiatives that we put in motion that I’d like to continue. We have a wellness program set up for our officers, and so as we see more people retiring and getting out of the profession, it’s even more important to keep the ones we have healthy for a longer time. We have an athletic trainer that works here and helps with injuries as well as preventing them. We talk about financial health and mental health.”
Horner said that the department has resources and a mental health therapist available to all officers who may be struggling with an experience and can do so confidentially.
Horner concluded, “Currently, our department is approved for 143 [sworn] officers, and we currently have 137. We are in the process of filling those spots. I’m also hopeful because I’ve seen success here when there’s other parts of our country that are struggling with the relationship between law enforcement and the communities they serve. If you hire good people, pay them well, offer them good benefits and spend a lot of time training them and providing them with proper equipment so they can do their job professionally, I think you eliminate the possibility of mistakes happening.”