INDIANAPOLIS — A complex police reform bill with bipartisan support passed unanimously in a House committee Tuesday.
House Bill 1006 creates mandatory de-escalation training, expands officer decertification, prohibits the use of chokeholds in most situations and requires a more open exchange of information on the employment history of police officers.
The bill was authored by Greg Steuerwald, R-Danville, and co-authored by three other legislators, including Robin Shackleford, D-Indianapolis, chair of the Indiana Black Legislative Caucus.
Shackleford credited Steuerwald for working with the caucus and for listening to the cries of protesters in the Black Lives Matter movement.
“I know this is a complicated bill, but this is a bill that many of our community and protesters wanted to see, whether it has to do with the de-escalation training or making sure an officer can be decertified — and then also the additional no-chokehold definition,” Shackleford said.
She said letters of support will be coming in from the NAACP, the Indianapolis Urban League and the Indiana Black Expo.
Along with requiring de-escalation training, the legislation classifies the use of chokeholds as deadly force and defines it as “applying pressure to the throat or neck of another person in a manner intended to obstruct the airway of the other person.”
Rep. Matt Pierce, D-Bloomington, raised concerns that proving intent could be difficult and that the definition makes no mention of restricting blood flow.
The legislation also makes turning off or covering a body camera to intentionally conceal a crime a Class A misdemeanor.
In a move that Ed Merchant, a lobbyist for the Indiana Fraternal Order of Police and Indiana Law Enforcement Coalition, said would keep “bad actors” off the streets, the bill requires a hiring agency to request information about an officer’s record from the previous employer.
Steuerwald said the bill is a product of many conversations that started in May.
“The question I posed was, ‘What can we do to support and enhance law enforcement’s efforts, processes and procedures that will enhance their efforts for the public good?’” Steuerwald said.
He said answers were broken down in three basic topics: training, body cameras and “wandering officers,” or officers who resign and go to another agency following a complaint of misconduct.
The issue of body cameras wasn’t included in the bill beyond the new misdemeanor classification because it will be taken up in the state budget, Steuerwald said.
Representatives of Indiana law enforcement agencies appeared to show support for the changes.
Merchant said it is important to law enforcement in Indiana that this bill is passed.
“Our coalition believes that we should be pursuing policies that enhance law enforcement in Indiana as well as attempt to bring transparency to law enforcement or improve transparency, and that’s exactly what this bill does,” Merchant said.
Tim Horty, executive director of the Indiana Law Enforcement Academy, voiced his support for decertification. He said that if his organization is selected to manage decertification hearings, it will take the responsibility seriously to help build trust in officers in the communities they serve.
“Our police department, regardless of where it is, is only as successful as the community that supports it,” Horty said. “And if there is no community support, that police department effectively becomes ineffective.”
Indiana State Police Lt. Brad Hoffeditz said state police already do de-escalation training and are the No. 1 law enforcement agency in the state for seeking decertification of officers. But he said the requirement of sharing records between Indiana law enforcement employers will help in hiring because past employers of officers provide little information.
“That’s a big deal for us,” Hoffeditz said. “I can’t even tell you how many background investigations I’ve had to do myself.”
Groups not directly affiliated with law enforcement also made their voices heard at the meeting.
Steve Key, executive director of the Hoosier State Press Association, testified that the bill needed to be amended because hospital police departments weren’t initially included in the requirement for police departments to share records. The amendment to include hospital police was quickly made by the House Courts and Criminal Code Committee, with McNamara saying it could be revisited if needed.
Tim Brown from the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce, citing the decrease in solved homicides in Indianapolis, said this bill is a step in the right direction to build community trust and solve more crime.
Seconding Brown’s hope for increased trust in policing with the new bill, Indiana Public Defender Council executive director Bernice Corley voiced the organization’s support. Corley also dismissed Pierce’s concern regarding proving intent for use of chokeholds because trial courts will be able to discern intent.
The bill will now move on to be put on the House schedule and receive a vote.