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Indiana lawmakers’ panel advances new hiring, training, conduct rules for police

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Could major changes be coming for Indiana law enforcement officers? A committee of state lawmakers Tuesday took a big step forward.

The panel of lawmakers advanced a proposal to create guidelines to help police agencies in hiring and training and to create other measures to increase trust from the public.

“It’s historic,” said state Rep. Greg Steuerwald, a Republican from Avon, who spent the past six months conversing with various law-enforcement agencies before writing House Bill 1006. It would require a state law-enforcement training board to establish mandatory de-escalation training guidelines.

“They said ‘Listen. We have 99.9% wonderful, great people and we do not want the 0.1% who do not act accordingly, to cause us issues. So, let’s deal with that.’”

Indiana State Police Lt. Brad Hoffeditz, the agency’s legislative director, said, “This bill basically standardizes everything state police is already doing. We already do de-escalation training. That will be incorporated in. We’re making sure that our program basically is going to hit all the requirements that the bill would have.”

Under the measure, if police officers turned off their body cameras with the intent to commit or hide a crime, they would face penalties.

“That’s very significant,” said Edward Merchant, who represents the the Indiana Fraternal Order of Police and the Indiana Law Enforcement Coalition. “We think this would strengthen and maintain the community relationship between community and law enforcement in Indiana.”

Steuerwald’s proposal refers to chokeholds as deadly force, and bans their use in certain circumstances.

The executive director of the Public Defender’s Council, Bernice Corley, supports the bill. “I say that because I think this legislation will go a great length in building trust in our society. I think we all can agree, any successful society relies on trust. Trust in the system that governs. Trust that the system will be fair.”

The chair of Indiana’s Black Legislative caucus, state Rep. Robin Shackleford, co-authored the bill.

“I know this is a complicated bill, but this is a bill that many of our community and protesters wanted to see,” said the a Democrat from Indianapolis. “Whether it has to do with de-escalation training or making sure an officer can be de-certified; then also the additional ‘chokehold’ definition. I will say there will be more community support letters forthcoming. Some of the community members couldn’t make it here today, so you will see support from the NAACP, the Indianapolis Urban League and also the Indiana Black Expo.”

The bill would do several specific things for Indiana law enforcement. Among them, Indiana’s Law Enforcement Training Board would be able to de-certify an officer who commits misconduct, keeping them from being a law-enforcement officer in Indiana.

Also, a hiring agency would be required to request a police applicants previous employment records to address the issue of “wandering officers,” according to Steuerwald. They’re defined as police applicants who have complaints or disciplinary actions against them elsewhere, and attempt to resign or quit to move on to another agency.

The state police’s Hoffeditz said, “I can’t even tell you how many background investigations I’ve had to do myself over the course of my tenure of almost 20 years in law enforcement. Very frequently, the answer we would get if asked if the individual was employed by them or if there’s anything else they would like to share with us, is ‘year, we employed them’ and that’s it. So, 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.”

Some of the agencies that testified in support of the proposal include:

  • Indiana State Police.
  • Indiana Fraternal Order of Police.
  • Indiana Law Enforcement Coalition.
  • Indiana Law Enforcement Academy.
  • Indiana Sheriff’s Association.
  • Hoosier State Press Association.
  • AT&T.
  • Indy Chamber of Commerce.
  • Indiana Public Defender’s Council.