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Indiana law enforcement reform bill earns widespread support

January 12, 2021 GMT

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — A bipartisan bill aimed at increasing police accountability and enacting criminal justice reform received early support from Indiana’s legislators, law enforcement leaders and community groups Tuesday, following calls for action from the Indiana Black Legislative Caucus.

House Bill 1006, which was unanimously approved by the House Courts and Criminal Code Committee, includes provisions for mandatory de-escalation training, misdemeanor penalties for officers who turn off body cameras with intent to conceal, and bans on chokeholds in certain circumstances.

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The bill would also establish a procedure for the law enforcement training board to decertify officers who commit misconduct, and would ease the sharing of officers’ employment records between police departments, thus helping to identify “bad actors” and keep them from moving jobs. The legislation now heads to the full House.

Bill author Republican Rep. Greg Steuerwald said the measure has “total support” from law enforcement. Police organizations, including the state Fraternal Order of Police, the Indiana Association of Chiefs of Police and Indiana Sheriff’s Association, backed the legislation Tuesday, as did the Indiana Public Defender Council.

“It’s a very rare circumstance that the Indiana State Police gets to stand up and say what I’m about to say ... but we rise in support of the bill,” said ISP Lt. Brad Hoffeditz. “This bill basically standardizes everything the State Police are already doing.”

Hoffeditz specifically noted the record-sharing provision, saying departments often resist sharing information about officers and will only confirm that an individual had been employed there.

“It’s very difficult to make a decision that we need to make on an employment action when that’s the information we have at hand,” Hoffeditz said.

Tim Horty, who leads the Indiana Law Enforcement Academy, said he favors classifying chokeholds as “deadly force.” The restriction technique should be likened to police officers using firearms, and the burden of proof “should be the same,” Horty said.

“We are 100% opposed to chokeholds,” he said, adding that chokeholds do not appear in the academy’s curricula.

The draft legislation is inspired by the Indiana Black Legislative Caucus’ proposed package of police accountability and criminal justice reforms released over the summer, following protests against racial injustice and police brutality spurred by the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody.

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In June, the caucus called on Gov. Eric Holcomb to address criminal justice reform with a list of “immediate action items” that included bans on chokeholds, racial profiling and no-knock warrants.

Those same issues are now key to their policy agenda during this Legislative session, said Democratic Rep. Robin Shackleford, chair of the caucus and who co-authored the House bill. She said it is “a great start.”

“I think it’s probably more than we expected to try to get passed in this bill, because it did have some controversial parts,” Shackleford said. “I’m just glad everybody was able to get things worked out and we got as much in here as we could.”

While Shackleford said there is support for the bill from the NAACP, the Indianapolis Urban League, and Indiana Black Expo, she acknowledged that some wanted stricter language on chokeholds and more funding for body cameras.

Steuerwald said that while there is broad support for providing body cameras to police departments across Indiana, that issue was withheld from this bill. Instead, body camera funding will be discussed as part of the state budget, which House Republicans are expected to present next month.

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Casey Smith is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.