Indiana Statehouse

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — A bipartisan bill aimed at increasing police accountability and enacting criminal justice reform advanced with unanimous support from a key Indiana Senate committee Tuesday.

House Bill 1006, passed unanimously by the Indiana House last month, includes provisions for mandatory de-escalation training, misdemeanor penalties for officers who turn off body cameras with intent to conceal, and bans on chokeholds in certain circumstances.

If adopted, the bill will also establish a procedure for the law enforcement training board to decertify officers who commit misconduct, and would ease the sharing of employment records between police departments, thus helping to stop "wandering officers" from moving jobs.

House lawmakers added $70 million to the measure to help the Indiana Law Enforcement Academy implement the changes made necessary by the bill. A portion of those funds would be used to upgrade the nearly 50-year-old training facility.

"Everything begins with proper training, that's the first thing we address. Another major topic we discussed is how to deal with the rogue officer ... to be able to decertify officers, while also giving them full due process rights," bill author Republican Rep. Greg Steuerwald said Tuesday. "What we've done here, I think its of extreme significance."

While there is broad support for providing body cameras to police departments across Indiana, that issue was withheld from this bill. Instead, body camera funding will be discussed in the state budget. The Senate's criminal law committee made no changes to the bill before approving it in an 8-0 vote Tuesday, with the proposal now going to the Senate Appropriations Committee for a review of spending provisions.

The impetus for the bill stems from conversations with law enforcement agencies around the state last spring over how to "enhance their ability to serve and protect the public," Steuerwald said.

The Republican lawmaker added that the measure has since earned "true and total support" from law enforcement, including the state Fraternal Order of Police, the Indiana Association of Chiefs of Police and the Indiana Sheriff's Association.

The draft legislation is also backed by the NAACP, the Indianapolis Urban League, Indiana Black Expo and members of the Indiana Black Legislative Caucus.

Democratic Rep. Robin Shackleford, chair of the caucus, said the bill aligns with pieces of the IBLC's proposed package of police accountability and criminal justice reforms released over the summer, following protests against racial injustice and police brutality spurred by the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody.

"We truly support the efforts of this legislation," Shackleford said, noting caucus members' collaborative work on the bill since last summer. "We know it is not the end-all, be-all. It is a great compromise, but at the same time, it is a great collaboration."

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Casey Smith is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.

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This story has been corrected to show that the proposal now goes to another state Senate committee for review, not directly to the full Senate.

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