Badge of Honor: Avon Police Chief Talks Community, New Programs and Evolution of Police Technology
Writer / Christy Heitger-Ewing
In 1993, Sean Stoops was taking classes at IUPUI with the intention of becoming an engineer when one night a friend invited him on a ride-along with the Indianapolis Police Department. Intrigued, Stoops said yes, and the experience caused him to alter the course of his career.
“Seeing officers helping people looked satisfying to me,” says Stoops, who switched gears and began pursuing law enforcement. He was hired in 1994 as a jail officer for the Shelby County Sherriff. In 1997, he began working as a patrolman for the Avon Police Department. In 1998, he, his wife Dawn and their daughter Courtni moved to Avon. Stoops was a patrol officer until 2003, when he became the department’s first Detective. Before being appointed Avon’s Chief of Police in 2014, he spent 14 years doing criminal investigations — something that he found deeply satisfying.
“To be able to solve cases, make arrests, recover property and provide victims with a sense of justice is one of the biggest rewards this job offers,” says Stoops, noting that when it comes to tackling felony cases, real-life scenarios are vastly different than fictional television portrayals. For instance, Hollywood’s interrogation scenes involving bright spotlights and hot-blooded officers with a short fuse are not accurate. In reality, detectives don’t scream at the top of their lungs and slam chairs to the floor. Instead, they take the time to calmly delve into the perpetrator’s upbringing in order to understand the path they have chosen.
“It’s not easy being kind to guys accused of rape, abduction and other heinous crimes, but that’s the way to solve cases,” Stoops says. “Antagonizing the perpetrator only increases the probability that he’ll be set free with little or no justice being served.”
During Stoops’ tenure at the Avon PD, he’s witnessed several changes. Growth is one of them. In 1997, Avon’s population consisted of roughly 5,000 to 6,000 residents.
“Now we are over 17,000 with a transient population of 30,000 cars that travel through the area per day,” he says.
The Avon school system has expanded as well — now with more than 9,000 children enrolled. All this growth means that the Avon Police Department has had to increase its manpower to four times its original size.
“Twenty years ago, we employed six police officers,” Stoops says. “Now, we have 28.”
The size of the department is not all that’s changed over the past two decades. So, has the evolution of technology.
“When I started on the force, we had a portable radio on our belt and a radio in the car,” Stoops says. “In the squad room, we had one computer that was connected to the internet. Back then, resources were pretty limited.”
Slowly the department acquired cell phones and texting capabilities. Then came the smartphone. Soon the department had in-car cameras and laptops, allowing real-time data to be transmitted from the dispatch center.
As we head into the new year, the Avon Police Department has plans to polish and ramp up programs they have recently implemented that will serve to reduce crime in Avon as well as Hendricks County. One program is called the Crime Action Team (CAT).
Funded by a grant from Hot Spots Policing, a Byrne’s grant, it focuses on lowering crime rates in the retail district. The CAT attaches cameras to their squad cars that include a plate reader, which constantly takes pictures of license plates going both forwards and backwards. This enables officers to compare plates to BMV files on record of suspended drivers and wanted criminals. So, if the CAT team is driving around and their plate reader sends an alert because it matches one in the system, officers can access info on the driver before even pulling him over.
“Before we had to call in the license plate to dispatch and they had to send an electronic request for the information from the state. Now we can access information instantaneously,” says Stoops, noting that no information collected is retained. “It’s not like we’re gathering data and storing it. We’re only comparing data that’s already in the system.”
In the past, Avon has held the crown for most bank, gas station and fast food robberies. Less than a year after implementing the CAT program, however, robberies have dropped by almost two-thirds.
The department also started Project Lifesaver, which helps those suffering from dementia, Alzheimer’s, Epilepsy, autism, Down syndrome and other related illnesses that might cause them to wander. These individuals are fitted with a low-frequency transmitting device that is attached to a wrist or ankle and can be monitored by police if the person goes missing.
“It’s like the Hot-Cold game,” Stoops says. “It starts beeping a low, quiet beep until you get closer to the individual and then it amps up.”
If Stoops had a magic wand that would eradicate one problem in the community, he would set his sights on the heroin and opioid addiction.
“It’s claimed so many lives. There’s no way of measuring what these folks might have accomplished had they lived,” says Stoops, noting that the stereotypical drug abuser is not the “nasty bad guy” but rather the smart kid who suffers a random knee injury and gets hooked on painkillers. “Avon is a relatively safe, economically well-off community, but heroin, opioid addiction and drug use, in general, knows no economical bounds. From the richest to the poorest, it doesn’t discriminate.”
Sadly, this epidemic is plaguing the nation. Thankfully, however, the Avon Police Department has recently dedicated one of their police officers to the Hendricks County United Drug Task Force, which focuses on heroin, methamphetamine and opioid issues that are inundating the community. Stoops receives weekly briefings from his detective and is pleased to report that the task force has already experienced some success. Additionally, the Avon Police Department recently won the Ben Roethlisberger K9 grant from the Ben Roethlisberger Foundation. That money will go towards the purchase of additional K9 to help combat the growing heroin and opioid problem.
Stoops is invested in making this community the best that it can be because Avon has given him so much joy.
“It’s been wonderful for my wife and I to watch our daughters Courtni, Sydney and Delaney grow into responsible teens and adults,” Stoops says. “This community played a big role in making that happen.”
He applauds teachers and administrators as well as church and civic leaders, public safety folks and others who have joined forces to build Avon into a great community.
In addition, the Stoops, who “live and breathe black and gold,” credit the Avon Marching Band for introducing their family to hundreds of people who share the same goals, values and positive work ethic.
“Raising children really does take a village,” Stoops says. “And we have an awesome village in Avon.”