Law enforcement reform bill easily advances in Indiana House

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A law enforcement reform bill that appears to have wide support from policing agencies and minority groups is advancing to the Indiana House floor.

The House Courts and Criminal Code Committee unanimously advanced House Bill 1006 on Tuesday morning.

The bill, authored by Republican Rep. Greg Steuerwald of Danville, would largely ban the use of chokeholds, penalize officers for intentionally turning off body and vehicle cameras, and make it easier for the Indiana Law Enforcement Training Board to decertify bad acting officers.

Decertifying a police officer means he or she can no longer serve in law enforcement in the state.

The bill would expand the conditions for decertification, making it possible when an officer is convicted of just one misdemeanor (current law requires it to be two or more or for it to be a felony conviction) and adds language that would allow for decertification if the officer has simply “engaged in conduct that would be a criminal offense” even if he or she has not been convicted of a crime.

“I think that is a very dramatic increase to the statute,” Steuerwald said.

The legislation would allow the decertification process to continue even if the officer has resigned or retired from his or her position.

On the issue of chokeholds — something minority leaders have argued should be banned — the bill defines “chokehold” as “applying pressure to the throat or neck of another person in a manner intended to obstruct the airway of another person,” and considers it to be a deadly force.

Steuerwald said the bill would only allow officers to use a chokehold in situations that call for use of deadly force. That means if the officer used a chokehold, he or she also would have been justified in drawing a gun.

State Rep. Matt Pierce, D-Bloomington, said he had some concerns about the use of the word “intent,” because it might be difficult to prove the officer intended to restrict the airway of someone.

But Steuerwald said courts regularly address the issue of “intent” in legal cases, so he didn’t believe it would be an issue.

The bill does not provide additional funding for body cameras at law enforcement agencies, but Steuerwald said that’s because he expects the funding to be included in the budget bill instead.

And the bill does address penalties for turning off cameras — it would make it a Class A misdemeanor if an officer turns off a body or vehicle camera with the intent to commit or conceal a criminal act.

The bill would also require law enforcement agencies to obtain previous employment information about potential new hires. This would include complete employment files, details related to disciplinary actions and information on internal investigations from any agency that has employed the individual applying for a job. And the prior employers would be required to share that information, under the legislation.

Lt. Brad Hoffeditz, the legislative director for the Indiana State Police, said that language is “a big deal for us” because agencies often don’t provide any information on former employees.

The legislation would also require the Indiana Law Enforcement Training Board to establish minimum standards for de-escalation training and require that training to be taught as part of the use-of-force training.

It also addresses transparency by requiring certain records at private university police departments to become public record, including background information on police officers, information on formal charges made against officers and the basis for disciplinary action that resulted in an officer being suspended, demoted or discharged.

The bill has broad support from the law enforcement community — representatives for the Indiana State Police, Indiana State Fraternal Order of Police, Indiana Law Enforcement Academy and the Indiana Sheriff’s Association all spoke in favor of it.

Democratic Rep. Robin Shackleford of Indianapolis, who is a co-author of the bill and chairwoman of the Indiana Black Legislative Caucus, said other stakeholders such as the NAACP and the Indiana Black Expo are also supporting the legislation.

The Indy Chamber, AT&T and the Indiana Public Defender Council also testified in support of the legislation.

“It’s definitely a strong, strong statement in transparency and trust in the system,” Indiana Public Defender Council Executive Director Bernice Corley said.

The bill moves to the House floor for consideration. It is a top priority for the House Republican caucus.

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