Salute to our Southside heroes

Local firefighters and police officers inspire and encourage others through their actions

By Nancy Price, Stephanie Dolan and Lt. Don Bender

Heroes are those who make a difference in their communities. They inspire and encourage others. They implement change for the greater good. They persevere, despite the uphill challenges. They may serve quietly, yet their actions are heard loud and clear.

Our Southside police officers and firefighters are our local everyday heroes. We remember those who have made an impact in our lives.

We give tribute this year to these heroes. To the staff and volunteers of the White River Township Fire Department, who are planning great things for their community in the near future; to the first women sworn in as police officers for the IMPD 100 years ago and paved the way for future generations of women; and to Lieutenant Phil Parmalee, a retired Southport police officer who quietly gave to others who struggled financially.

Thank you to all local heroes who make a difference every day.

New WRTFD headquarters to help build community relationships

This fall, the White River Township Fire Department will begin construction on a 23,000 square foot, multimillion-dollar facility that will serve the growing needs of the department.

WRTFD’s current location at 850 S. Mullinix Road will be torn down as Interstate 69’s 142-mile highway extension, from Martinsville to Indianapolis, nears its completion.

The building’s added space will serve many purposes for a department that has grown substantially within the past 18 years, noted WRTFD Fire Chief Jeremy Pell. The addition of more firefighters, bigger firetrucks and newer regulations require the extra room.

The department’s new home, near Center Grove Middle School North, will be located in front of Pleasant Grove Elementary School (at the corner of Fairview Road and Morgantown Road) and will also include a substation for the Johnson County Sheriff’s Department.

“We are pleased to work out this agreement with the White River Township Fire Department,” said Dr. Rich Arkanoff, Center Grove Superintendent. “Having the fire department’s principal headquarters and Johnson County Sheriff’s Department substation located so closely to two of our schools will only improve the safety of our students and staff.”

Pell said that the new location across from the school will provide a number of benefits, including quicker responses for emergencies, better visibility and increased communication between the fire department, schools and the community. The additional space can be used for various community events and meetings.

“We are the community fire department. We can provide a quick response for not only the school but for the entire community,” Pell said. “This is a new opportunity to get some of the students into the fire station where we can’t do that practically when we’re away from the school campus. That’s part of the reason for a larger community room, so we can do education events with fire equipment displays and have them do some hands-on activities.”

Pell said he appreciated the “great partnership” with not only Center Grove Schools but with the Indiana Department of Transportation as well.

“I was able to participate in the Community Advisory Committee (with INDOT),” he said. “They’ve been open-minded, helped us find solutions, have been involved in the planning process and jumped right on board with us with the new station.”

The new building’s construction is scheduled to be completed by November 2019.

The women behind the badge

In America today, women make up approximately 15 percent of the nation’s federal, state and municipal police agencies. While Indianapolis comes in just under that mark, with about 12 percent of IMPD represented by the fairer sex, Indy has definitely made a statement with regard to women gaining ground in the field of law enforcement.

June 15 marked a century that women have been protecting and serving the city of Indianapolis. In 1918, 14 women were sworn in to the Indianapolis Police Department, and that anniversary is currently being celebrated with “The History of Women behind the Badge”, an exhibit developed by IMPD historical archivist Patrick Pearsey. The exhibit features historical information, a slideshow and visual artifacts highlighting the service of both past and present female officers.

“I think citizens at that time were really for it, especially women,” Pearsey said. “There had been a push for policewomen for many years because there was a general need for a female point of view when dealing with children and women who were incarcerated. They needed women to take care of certain things that men just couldn’t do.”

At this time, during World War I, there were also a lot of men coming and going through town in the bus and train stations. More and more women were being preyed upon as a result.

“There was a manpower shortage due to the war and they needed women to try and enforce laws,” Pearsey added. “There was a lot of juvenile delinquency, which was an issue too.”

Liz Coffal and Betty Blankenship of the Indianapolis Police Department became the first women in United States history to patrol in a squad car, without a male present. They took all the runs men took, starting September 11, 1968.

While women were enforcing laws, they weren’t at that time held to the same rigorous physical standards that they are today.

“They did have a procedure,” Pearsey said. “They had to get 25 letters from the community, 20 of which were from women supporting them to be members of the department. They wanted older people – most were in their late 40s or 50s. They wanted women who they thought would be more stable. They picked women who had some experience working with juveniles, in nursing and who were known in the community and had good reputations.”

These women were initially welcomed onto the force with fairly open arms, yet – just a few years later – a new city administration held more prejudicial views of women on the police force.

“I think it started in 1922 when the new mayor was elected,” Pearsey said. “He brought his own people, and back then the department was pretty political. Every time city hall changed hands the same thing would happen with the police department. A lot of people who were with the last administration were let go. In addition to that, the mayor and the new chief of police had different attitudes about what they wanted to do with women in the department.”

The new administration called it the Department of Police Women and those officers answered to Capt. Clara Burnside. Burnside was a sergeant when she was hired and soon became the only female police captain in the U.S.

“She was a very good social worker and had a lot of experience,” Pearsey said. “The goal was not to arrest people but to counsel them, if possible – women and juveniles for most part.”

This is the way Burnside ran her department from 1918 to 1922.

“They got a lot of attention across county,” Pearsey said. “In 1921, we had the world’s largest Department of Police Women – more than 20 members.”

Today, total equality in the department means that women walk the same beats, answer the same calls, wield the same weapons and provide the same service as their male counterparts. That service is possible because of 14 women who answered the call to give back to their community 100 years ago.

“The History of Women behind the Badge” can be experienced through Sept. 21 on the sixth floor of the Central Library in the Special Collections Room.

Southport Police say a final goodbye to a silent hero

When I heard that retired Lieutenant Phil Parmalee had passed away on Aug. 28, I immediately began to think of the first time I had met him many decades ago.

Phil had recently retired as a desk officer for the Southport Police Department after dedicating a lifetime to the service of his communities and the law enforcement profession.

Phil had served in various areas of police work including as the Chief of the Zionsville Police Department and then onto the Chief of the War Memorial Police. It was in this capacity I met him, when I was assigned as one of the Indianapolis Police Department supervisors who worked the downtown area, it brought me into contact with him on a frequent basis.

I realized he was what police officers called ‘old school’, strict with the duties the officers were to perform, yet caring about them and always attempting to make their jobs as easy as a possible. He had a large distrust of technology, preferring to use pencil and paper and his mind instead of a computer. His sense of humor was what we would describe as a little corny but it was never demeaning or rude. He was described as being rough around the edges yet took the time to make sure everyone he talked to understood exactly where he stood and what he meant.

One story of Phil originated just after 9-11, when fuel prices were reaching an all-time high.  One of the War Memorial officers was patrolling the downtown parks and, as was the custom, sitting in his patrol vehicle observing the parks. The vehicle’s engine was running; while normally this would have been frowned upon to waste fuel, the sub-zero temperatures left little to do but have the vehicle on most of the time to keep the windows clear and protect the officer. A concerned individual noticed the vehicle running and began to loudly complain to the officer and demanded to see his immediate supervisor. Although already on his way home, Phil returned to personally talk to the citizen and after a polite but pointed conversation understood why the officer needed to have the vehicle running.

The position of War Memorial Police Officer was not known for its great pay and on more than one occasion the officers who worked for Phil would find themselves short for a car payment or other necessity and Phil would step up with a short or even a long-term loan to assist. He was noted for remembering the officers and their children, giving an envelope containing a crisp two-dollar bill or a small collection of uncirculated coins or commemorative quarter sets to his officers’ young children. He was the type of person who would literally give you the shirt off of his back if he thought it would help you.

Moving forward three-and-a-half decades, I was once again working with Phil, now on the same department. The jokes were the same, yet somehow, he still made them funny (or at least prompted a groan) and his distrust of technology was as strong as ever. It was also clear that he still cared a great deal about the officers he worked with as well as the citizens he served.

Phil Parmalee was a lifelong servant of the people, a hero, a friend to those officers he swerved with, as well as the citizens he encountered; he will be missed.