Scott Underwood: Police reform modest in Indiana

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May 24—In articles published Saturday, three local Black leaders and a couple of Black residents shared their impressions of progress in racial justice and changes in police policy and behavior.

Their comments came a year after the death of George Floyd and a month after Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin was found guilty of murder in Floyd's death.

The general consensus among the local residents we interviewed: Black people are still in grave danger of police brutality — and momentum to undo systemic racism has waned.

During the 2021 session of the Indiana General Assembly, broad bipartisan support led to the passage of House Bill 1006, which does the following:

—Enhances a state law enforcement board's power to decertify officers guilty of misconduct.

—Makes it a misdemeanor for officers to turn off body cameras to conceal wrongdoing.

—Enables law enforcement agencies to more easily share personnel records related to disciplinary actions and internal investigations to keep misbehaving officers from job hopping across the state.

In addition, legislators pledged more funding for the Indiana Law Enforcement Training Academy, as well as money to outfit state police with body cameras and grants for local agencies to purchase such cameras.

Here in Madison County, the Anderson Police Department and the Madison County Sheriff's Department, as well as some other agencies, have purchased body cameras.

But actions at the state and local level have fallen short of some measures demanded by social justice demonstrators in the aftermath of Floyd's murder.

No-knock warrants are still legal, there is still no comprehensive statewide database to track officer misconduct, and no law was passed to restrict police officers' use of force against protesters.

Also, the legislature did not entertain the notion of "de-funding" the police or funneling money away from police to other agencies. Nor did the General Assembly consider reform of qualified immunity, which protects officers against civil lawsuits.

While most in Indiana would not have supported a drastic measure such as de-funding police, the 2020 Hoosier Survey by Ball State University found that 80% of Hoosiers did support the idea of training police to use nonviolent alternatives with suspects, as well as the creation of a database tracking police misconduct.

The majority of those surveyed also favored stronger civilian oversight of police and even supported making it a crime for officers to use chokeholds.

Some of those who participated in Black Lives Matter protests last summer in Madison County can take a measure of comfort in the reforms legislated by the General Assembly and in Chauvin's guilty verdict. But there's still a long way to go.

Hoosiers want and deserve police agencies that are well equipped and trained to protect law-abiding citizens — without leaving any space for officers to mistreat suspects.

Editor Scott Underwood's column is published Mondays in The Herald Bulletin. Contact him at scott.underwood@heraldbulletin.com or 765-640-4845.