Chief Drake Sterling: Carmel Police Department Welcomes New Chief of Police

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Chief Drake Sterling

February/March 2024

We’re delighted to feature Carmel Police Department’s new chief of police, Drake Sterling, on our cover this month. Mayor Finkam announced on February 17, 2024, that Sterling was selected as outgoing Chief of Police Jim Barlow’s successor after an extensive search and interview process that began in November 2023. Barlow was appointed chief of police in 2017 by former Carmel mayor Jim Brainard and has honorably served CPD for nearly 40 years.

Sterling, an experienced police executive leader with over 15 years of dedicated law enforcement service, assumed the role on February 29. Sterling will have a public swearing-in ceremony on March 12.

Sterling sat down with “Carmel Monthly,” sharing insights into his extensive background in law enforcement and his perspectives on the evolving needs of the Carmel Police Department and the city of Carmel. He discussed his thoughts on leading the department while maintaining a commitment to delivering top-tier law enforcement services to the community.

Committed to Community and Excellence

Sterling’s most recent position was captain at the Zionsville Police Department, where he also served as the assistant SWAT commander for the Boone County Special Response Team. In these roles, Sterling demonstrated expertise in overseeing a wide range of critical functions, including community outreach, patrol, investigations, training, budgeting, fleet management, contracts and hiring. His extensive qualifications include graduation from the FBI National Academy in Quantico, obtaining a graduate certificate in criminal justice from the University of Virginia, and completing programs such as the Public Service Leadership Institute and the Indiana Police Chief Training Program. Furthermore, Sterling remains an active member of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, showcasing his commitment to professional development and excellence in law enforcement.

Reflecting on his initial interest in law enforcement, Sterling recounted an encounter with a La Porte deputy sheriff that sparked his fascination with the field and inspired him to pursue a career in it.

“It was my junior year in high school, and it was in the middle of winter up in La Porte, where I’m from,” Sterling said. “I had slid off the road, and a sheriff’s deputy showed up without me calling or anything…he had just driven by. I don’t know that I had ever thought about law enforcement prior to that point. So, the deputy pulled over, and he had every right and opportunity to call it in for a tow truck and move along. But he had a big Tahoe, and he hooked me up and pulled me out himself. He was the nicest guy and gave me all the time of day without any admonishment for being a dumb kid and sliding off the road. I thought, wow, this is a great interaction. That deputy became a captain with the La Porte County Sheriff’s Office, and he became an SRO at my school for a bit. I developed a really close bond with him, and to this day, he’s been my mentor and kept me on the right path. He showed me that law enforcement is not about having a tough face and tough personality, but [about] taking care of people.”

Sterling also shared that he had a penchant for the north side of Indy. When he chose to pursue a career in law enforcement, he started applying for positions throughout the area. However, in 2009, during the Great Recession, job opportunities were scarce.

“I ended up getting a job with the Zionsville Police Department, and they sent me through the [police] academy,” Sterling said. “They were awesome and hired me as a 22-year-old kid who didn’t have a lot of experience, but I was super excited and ready to work. I spent a lot of time on nights and afternoon shifts, which was great. It’s where a lot of young officers do their time learning the nuts and bolts of the job. I was fortunate to be promoted a few times and fell into some really good situations. I spent most of my time at ZPD working under former chief Robert Knox, and when Chief Michael Spears took over in 2020, he offered me the opportunity to work in administration.”

Preparing for the Role of Chief of Police

Unbeknownst to Sterling, his experiences at ZPD and, most recently, his graduation from the FBI National Academy would provide him with knowledge and a network of peers that will prove useful as Carmel’s newest chief of police.

Sterling added, “I enjoy administrative work, and while I miss police work—catching bad guys and doing that part of the job—my scope of influence [has] expanded, and such so that I can have a real say in how the department should run, and I can help people help young officers. Coming from Zionsville, a relatively small department, [going] to the National Academy was eye-opening because I was sitting in workshops next to chiefs, deputy chiefs and assistant chiefs from major [police] departments like Philadelphia and New York. It forced me to think outside my bubble a little bit. I think [the National Academy] helps prepare whoever steps into this role to tackle some of the big issues, and now I have a network of 195 other police executives throughout the country in my network. Having that network expands the opportunity to learn things [that] we [as a department] might not otherwise.”

Sterling discussed the contrasting sizes of the two communities, both in terms of square miles and population. Despite these differences, he noted that they also share some similarities.

“While Carmel and Zionsville are different, there is one area that I see similarities,” Sterling observed. “Expectations…the citizens in both communities have a very high expectation of public safety. People move to different communities, typically, with two things in mind: public safety and good schools.”

When asked why he feels prepared at this point in his career to take on the challenges the city of Carmel faces, Sterling replied, “The city is much bigger than [Zionsville], but the dynamics are similar. I think at the baseline, everything begins and ends with relationships. If you can establish relationships with important stakeholders, whether it be businesses, local governments, advisory groups and community groups, and the officers in the [police] department by putting people in a position in your command staff, and [the] rank and file [who] are going to buy into the mission, you’re not going to have a lot of problems, in my opinion.”

Sterling conveyed his gratitude for Mayor Finkam’s confidence in his capabilities and the support she has already extended to him.

“I’ve completely bought into Mayor Finkam’s vision,” Sterling said. “I love how she approaches her work, her role and her vision to elevate Carmel and maintain it as a world-class city with a world-class police department. I know she comes with a business mindset, and I appreciate that because it tells me she wants to get things done.”

Sterling explained that Barlow is staying on as a special advisor until March 12 to assist Sterling through the final phase of the transition.

“Chief Barlow has been phenomenal,” Sterling stated. “He’s been very open and encouraging. I’m immensely thankful for that. I’ve been discussing [the growth with Barlow], and not just as a whole but specifically downtown [Carmel]. I know parking is an issue—with parking garages comes a safety concern. So, directing foot and bike patrols to those areas and designated officers to the downtown district will be a big thing moving forward. Barlow’s had some great ideas that he’s shared with me on how we can improve that. I’m listening to the internal stakeholders that we have here because they’re going to be the institution of knowledge that I need to be successful.”

Currently, Sterling resides in Zionsville with his wife and two young children. However, they have plans to relocate to Carmel once the real estate market becomes more favorable.

Sterling concluded, “I think it’s important to be part of the community that you serve, and being a member of the community is just much more fulfilling in that it becomes your ‘place’ that you protect and serve. Carmel is where we will focus our attention.”