Lawmakers kill bill that would have stripped control of IMPD from city

Legislation that would have stripped control of the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department from the city’s mayor is dead for the year.

The Senate Corrections and Criminal Law Committee on Tuesday amended Senate Bill 168, which would have created a five-member board to oversee and govern the police department, to recommend the issue be discussed in a summer study committee.

As initially written, the governor would have been responsible for appointing four of the five board members, and the fifth member would have been the mayor in an ex-officio capacity.

But before stripping the bill to send it to a summer study, the committee approved an amendment from the bill’s author, Sen. Jack Sandlin, that changed the make-up of the board to be all Marion County residents and only gave the governor one appointment. The other members would have been appointed by the Indiana House speaker, the Indiana Senate president pro tem and the Indianapolis City-County Council. The fifth member still would have been the mayor in an ex-officio capacity.

The board would have been responsible for any ordinances governing the police department, overseeing the budget, assuming responsibility for the Indianapolis Police Merit Board and appointing the police chief.

Those are all duties currently delegated to Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett, a Democrat, and the Democratic-controlled Indianapolis City-County Council.

Sandlin, who served on the Indianapolis City-County Council from 2010-2016 and as a police officer with IMPD from 1973-1993, said he filed the bill after hearing complaints from residents about crime and perceived lack of action from city officials.

The committee also discussed — and ultimately killed — Senate Bill 394, which would have taken away power from the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department General Orders Committee.

In October, the Indianapolis City-County Council approved a controversial proposal that added four civilians to that committee, which guides and approves department procedures. It had previously been made up of two members appointed by the police chief and one appointed by the police union.

SB 394, authored by Sen. Aaron Freeman, R-Indianapolis, would have given control over all department procedures to the chief of police.

Blair Englehart, owner of public relations firm The Englehart Group, was one of the only members of the public to testify in support of either of the bills authored by Sandlin and Freeman.

Englehart said he’s leaving the city because crime has gotten out of control in recent years.

“COVID may have accelerated this issue, but the problem was already festering,” Englehart said. “The problem is the lack of leadership from the 25th floor.”

Edward Merchant, of the Indiana State Fraternal Order of Police, spoke in support of Freeman’s bill, which would have applied statewide.

“It’s common sense, and it will lead to increased consistency in policing throughout the state of Indiana,” Merchant said.

Officials from Eli Lilly and Co., Cummins Inc., United Way of Central Indiana, the African American Coalition of Indianapolis, the Indy Chamber, Indy Urban League and the Indiana Public Defender Council spoke in opposition to the bills.

Anne Valentine, vice president of government relations for United Way of Central Indiana, described the bills as “out of touch.”

“We know that police reform is a highly charged issue,” Valentine said. “This is not an issue where one size fits all.”

IMPD and Hogsett’s office also opposed the bills.

Chris Bailey, assistant chief of police for IMPD, said the department has been focused on improving technology, strengthening relationships with other law enforcement agencies and improving transparency and accountability with the community.

“These are what’s necessary to continue improving the safety of Indianapolis and protecting the places people love to live, work, play and visit,” Bailey said.

Republican Sen. Mike Young, who chairs the committee, said he supported Sandlin’s bill but it had to be changed to a study committee because it had a fiscal impact and the Senate Appropriations Committee wasn’t going to hear the bill before the committee-reading deadline on Thursday.

The committee also amended Freeman’s bill to be a summer study committee topic — against Freeman’s wishes.

“I had no desire for this to go to summer study committee,” Freeman said.

At Freeman’s request, the committee voted down the bill after amending it.

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