The Journal Gazette
Wednesday, January 13, 2021 1:00 am

General Assembly

Police reform bill goes to House

Supported by officer groups to help reestablish trust

NIKI KELLY | The Journal Gazette

INDIANAPOLIS – Rogue police officers could be more easily identified and rooted out under a bill passed unanimously Tuesday by the House Courts and Criminal Code Committee.

House Bill 1006 also would define and ban chokeholds in all but deadly force situations and makes it a misdemeanor for a police officer to turn off a body camera to conceal a criminal act.

“Thank you all for this work. It's like a balm to the soul,” said Bernice Corley, executive director of the Indiana Public Defender Council. “It will go a long way to building trust.”

The measure now moves to the full House for amendment and vote.

Rep. Greg Steuerwald, R-Avon, started work on the bill in May when the state and nation saw massive police protests. He worked closely with stakeholders and the bill is supported by all police groups – many of whom testified in support Tuesday.

“The question I posed was how could the General Assembly support and enhance law enforcement efforts, processes and procedures for the public good?” he said.

The bill adds deescalation training required under state statute and defines a chokehold as “applying pressure to the throat or neck of another person in a manner intended to obstruct the airway of the other person.” A chokehold would now be considered deadly force under the law, which limits when it can be used.

Rep. Matt Pierce, D-Bloomington, said he thinks the definition is too narrow and it will be hard to enforce an officer's intent.

He voted for the bill he called important but also said the state needs to look at “what we can do structurally to reestablish the trust between communities that are being policed and the law enforcement officers working the community.”

Two other key parts of the legislation are aimed at bad actors in law enforcement.

The first would require a hiring agency to request the full personnel record of anyone they are considering. The current or former employee must release the records within 10 days.

Steuerwald said this would help identify so-called “wandering officers” who resign before disciplinary action then shop for a new employer.

Lt. Brad Hoffeditz of the Indiana State Police said the employment provisions are a “substantial step” and said he often contacts entities who will only confirm employment and nothing else.

“That's a big deal for us,” he said.

Another section would expand when an officer can be decertified. If they lose their police certification they can never again work as law enforcement in Indiana. Under current law, an officer must have committed a felony or two misdemeanors.

Steuerwald said it will be reduced to just one misdemeanor. And it allows actions that don't rise to the level of a criminal act but are inappropriate to be considered.

“I think that is a very dramatic increase of the statute,” he said, noting the officer would still retain full due process rights.

Ed Merchant, representing the Indiana Fraternal Order of Police, said the bill will improve transparency and “get the bad actors off the street.”

Funding issues – including covering the cost of body cameras for the Indiana State Police and grants for local forces as well as capital improvements at the Indiana Law Enforcement Academy – will be handled in the state budget.

Sign up for our daily headlines newsletter

Top headlines are sent daily