Indiana News

Indiana lawmakers recommend legalizing sports betting

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — State lawmakers in a summer study committee on Friday voted unanimously to recommend legalizing sports betting during the next legislative session.

In May, the U.S. Supreme Court gave states the green light to allow sports betting, and the issue was chosen for discussion by lawmakers this summer.  

“We want to be able to have our casinos offer what they can, especially with sports wagering, to keep them competitive,” State Rep. Alan Morrison, a Republican from Brazil, said Friday.  

Morrison is working on legislation to legalize sports betting, including via cellphone. Lawmakers also talked about possible security considerations for betting, including registering in person at a casino with several forms of identification.

“We certainly don’t want either underage folks or people stealing other folks’ identity and being able to place wagers that ultimately are illegal,” Morrison said on Friday. 

Christina Gray, executive director of the Indiana Council on Problem Gambling, said the council is neutral but she is concerned that legalizing sports betting could open the door to issues for people with a gambling addiction.

Gray would like to see lawmakers include some resources to deal with those concerns. 

“One of them (resources) is that one percent of the tax revenue go to the prevention and treatment of problem gambling,” Gray said. 

State Rep. Vanessa Summers, a Democrat from Indianapolis, was undecided on Friday: “It all boils down to: It’s a lot. It’s easy. And what are the safeguards?” 

When asked if he would be hearing sports betting bills in the next legislative session, State Rep. Ben Smaltz of Auburn, who serves as Republican Committee Chairman, said: “We’ll wait until all the information’s in. It’s really important through this process to maintain an open mind and listen to what people have to say.” 

Morrison said he was confident he would get a hearing and have bipartisan support for the issue in the 2019 session.

Morrison said if his bill gets a hearing, passes through the House and Senate and is signed into law, he hoped to have sports betting in place statewide by September 2019 to coincide with the start of football season.


Hamilton County’s ‘Wellness Unit’ part of nationwide effort to improve mental health among officers

NOBLESVILLE, Ind. (WISH) — An initiative to improve employee well-being at the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office is among a spate of efforts across the nation to address mental health concerns among officers.

Sheriff Dennis Quakenbush announced the department’s new “Wellness Unit”  — devoted to the physical, mental and spiritual health of its deputies, correctional officers and civilian employees — Friday in a Facebook post.

“Our guys really care about the public,” he said Monday in an interview with News 8. “When you see somebody who’s injured or victimized, it really impacts us… We’re only human.”

The Wellness Unit launched in January with funding approved by county council members and commissioners.

Appointments are held off-site at undisclosed locations to protect the privacy of employees. Supervisors are not briefed on which employees seek counseling or what they discuss during sessions.

Information gathered during counseling sessions will not be used to demote or discipline employees, and will only be disclosed if required by law, including when somebody poses an immediate danger to themselves or others.

The department’s entire staff will receive training related to suicide prevention, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, critical incidents, addiction, mindfulness and officer wellness, the sheriff said.

Nearly 1 in 4 police officers has thoughts of suicide at some point in their life, according to the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI); the suicide rate for police officers is four times higher than the rate for firefighters.

Years of daily exposure to stress, trauma and tragedy can have other devastating consequences if appropriate coping skills are not developed, according to Susan Sherer-Vincent, a licensed clinical social worker, certified alcoholism counselor and licensed marriage and family therapist involved in launching the Wellness Unit.

“Think of the hurricanes that come in, in Florida, and think of the palm trees where they bend,” she explained. “But then, what happens afterwards? They go back up. That’s called resilience. We want our officers to bend, not break.”

Until approximately 3 to 5 years ago, officers were often conditioned to “pull [themselves] up by the bootstraps and go to the next call” instead of addressing personal struggles, Sherer-Vincent said.

Cultivating resiliency can be difficult within a law enforcement culture that equates mental health challenges with “weakness,” she said.

“[Officers] are trained to have the warrior mentality,” Sherer-Vincent told News 8. “Truly, they would have been made fun of [in the past for seeking counseling].”

She compared strong, silent officers with underdeveloped coping skills to California’s famed redwood trees.

“They’re pretty sturdy. But what would happen if you took an ax and hit those every single day, day after day, for years? They would eventually fall,” she said.

Quakenbush credits his wife, church and non-law enforcement friends with providing “a really good support system.”

“But sometimes, you need a professional,” he said, urging employees to “talk through” negative emotions instead of turning to alcohol and other substances for temporary relief.

Several internal cases that resulted in disciplinary action during his year-long tenure as sheriff may have been prevented with wellness-focused intervention, Quakenbush said.

He was unable to comment on personnel matters. 

Sources within the department indicated some of the cases involved employees with substance abuse issues that had escalated over time, possibly as a result of work-related stress that had gone unaddressed. 

“I wouldn’t say that [disciplinary action] was happening often,” Quakenbush told News 8. “But seeing it happen and knowing that we probably could have done something about it made it impactful and something that we wanted to make a priority.”

Hamilton County announced its Wellness Unit days after New York City police officials revealed plans to hire a team of psychologists to combat a spike in officer suicides.

On Feb. 13, Indianapolis police officials said they planned to swear in the department’s first full-time therapy dog by the end of March.

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