Why Indiana’s justice reform bill may become a model

Indiana

INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana’s justice reform bill, HB 1006 unanimously passed the House of Representatives with a rare standing ovation and a speech from Republican Indiana House Speaker Todd Huston.

“This is the way the body is supposed to work,” said Huston. “I do think the country is watching.”

He asked author State Rep. Greg Steuerwald to stand up for more clapping and recognition, noting his efforts to collaborate with all interested parties.

“It was quite the honor,” said Steuerwald in a sit-down interview at the Statehouse with reporter Kayla Sullivan.

He choked up thinking about that moment and all of the hard work that brought him there.

This bill started in the summer of 2020 during a discussion with the Indiana Sheriff’s Association over jail overcrowding issues. Steuerwald said it then turned into another conversation about law enforcement enhancement.

“What can the General Assembly do to enhance your ability to protect the public?” asked Steuerwald, and the law enforcement community responded. “Beyond belief what a great partner they were.”

He said HB 1006 has three major aspects.

“Everything starts with training,” said Rep. Steuerwald. “So, we put $70 million into the bill for improvement to the ILEA (Indiana Law Enforcement Academy).”

The bill also allows local law enforcement agencies without body camera programs to apply for a state grant to get them.

“All law enforcement agreed they wanted to deal with what they called the wondering officer,” said Steuerwald.

The “wondering” officer is the kind of officer to bend or break the rules.

This legislation puts forth a decertification process for those officers while also setting up a state hearing to protect their due process rights.

It creates a punishment for officers who intentionally turn off their body camera to hide their own misconduct, requires de-escalation training and bans chokeholds unless used in a life-or-death situation.

“A very major part of the bill is when an officer applies for a different agency, that agency must request an employment file from a previous agency and the previous agency must give them the entire file,” said Steuerwald.

Right now, the law does not open up employment records for these agencies. So, if an officer was fired over wrongdoing, the hiring agency wouldn’t be able to see that.

“I think it’s historical in nature,” said Rep. Steuerwald.

He said experts are asking him for copies of the bill to propose it as a model in other states.

It has support of the Indiana Law Enforcement Academy, Indiana Sheriff’s Association, Indiana State Fraternal Order of Police, Indiana State Police, and the Indiana Association of Chiefs of Police.

Vice President of the Indiana Association of Chiefs of Police Patrick Flannelly of the Lafayette Police Department said this bill is more than a compromise.

I think another word is really just a better understanding of how law enforcement does its job,” said Flannelly.

He said it was so important to be included in this legislation that directly impacts law enforcement.

“You really need to include the subject matter experts and think about how this affects both sides, what are the unintended consequences?” said Flannelly.

The Indiana Black Legislative Caucus feels the same way about its seat at the table.

IBLC member and Senate Minority Leader Sen. Greg Taylor praised HB 1006.

“It’s a collaboration with law enforcement, elected officials, community organizations. This was going to be something that we could all agree on so the things that we couldn’t, we left out,” said Taylor. “HB 1006 should stay clean. There’s no reason to start complicating that great piece of legislation.”

Republican Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray also expressed his support for the bill and his desire to keep it the same.

“I appreciate that,” said Rep. Steuerwald. “We had 15-20 different drafts of this bill working on the language… I don’t think it could have been any better.”

The federal government is also working on justice reform, but it deals with more controversial topics like banning no-knock warrants and altering qualified immunity for officers.

“Really concerned about some of that language because I think right now most people don’t have a firm understanding of what qualified immunity actually is, qualified immunity does not protect police officers when they break the law, when they knowingly or intentionally do something criminal,” said Chief Flannelly. “What it does protect them from is in the act of doing their job if they make a mistake that there is at least some protection to them. We’re really getting into some dangerous territory here.”

Those against the federal proposal say it would prevent police from doing their jobs effectively.

However, President Joe Biden has shown his support for the legislation stating it makes communities safer and holds police accountable.

The bill in congress would need to sway at least 10 Republican U.S. Senators in order to pass. The Indiana statehouse proposal has support from both parties in the Senate and leadership says they don’t plan to change anything.

Steuerwald said his secret to success is bringing everyone to the table early.

“I go to the experts. Why would you not go to the experts who deal with it every day?” said Rep. Steuerwald.

We will continue following both the state and federal proposals as they move through the legislative process.

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