Bill specifies matters concerning police conduct


Legislation focused on police officers’ conduct is moving through the Indiana General Assembly.

House Bill 1006 encompasses several components that local law enforcement leaders deem are good to have in place.

In particular, the bill will allow a police officer’s conduct record with a police department to be available to another department that may be looking at hiring that officer.

“We basically opened up the employee records to be shared,” said State Rep. Steve Bartels, R-Eckerty, who is a co-author on the bill. “So if there's a police officer that did something that was maybe rule-breaking, but not a crime, that that would follow that person.”

Local law enforcement said that having this in place would be helpful.

“That’s a good idea. That would give the new agency more of a heads up about what they're getting,” Huntingburg Police Chief Art Parks said.

“Years ago, police departments were worried about: Can we say this? Can we say that? Can we do this? Can we do that? And a lot of them didn’t,” he said. “I've always been pretty upfront as legally as much as I can. If they do this (pass the bill), then maybe that opens up more. And you don't get the bad [officers] working out there.”

Jasper Police Chief Nathan Schmitt agrees with the proposed stipulation.

“I think that should be required, and not just for law enforcement, but for any employment,” he said. “We would hate to have an officer who's had problems at one department get hired by our department. So if there's anything that we can do to figure that out prior to hiring them, that's a good thing.”

The department does extensive background checks on each candidate it considers hiring, Schmitt said.

“Sometimes we get frustrated because we were told by HR people that, you know, this is their start date, this is a finish date,” he said, “and they don't tell us anything, what kind of worker they were, or what kind of person they were. We think it's important to have that information to make sure that we're not getting a bad apple from another department.”

Dubois County Sheriff Tom Kleinhelter doesn’t think this stipulation would affect his office very much. “We do a lot of our hiring from in house, from jail officers. We get to see who they are, how they work, their work ethic. So if we can, we like to hire from our jail staff.”

It would change what the his agency could share with another agency about an officer.

“There's some things that can be done in house that may or may not ever be known by any other agency,” Kleinhelter said. “If we have an officer here who does something and we take disciplinary action against them, and they go out and try to get a different job, there are certain aspects that you cannot tell a potential employer. If this bill passes, then yes, we could tell that police agency that's getting ready to hire someone all their disciplinary actions that they've had; we would be be forced to.”

And Kleinhelter agrees with doing that.

“I think it is a great idea,” he said. “We as police officers are held to a higher standard by the public, and I think we're held to an even higher standard by our peers.

The House bill makes de-escalation training mandatory as well as establishes a procedure for the Indiana law enforcement training board to decertify an officer who has committed a misconduct “that way, they can't be a police officer anywhere in the state,” Bartels said.

HB 1006 outlines what a chokehold is and specifies when doing this move is not allowed. “We went back and forth and lots of compromises,” Bartels said. “What defines a chokehold. When can a police officer use a chokehold?”

The bill also states that a law enforcement officer who turns off a body-worn camera with the intent of concealing a criminal act will be charged with a Class A misdemeanor. While local law enforcement are fine with this, they all said that the bigger concern for them would be the criminal act itself.

“I'm not really worried about any officer that turns off their body cameras to commit a crime to have a Class A misdemeanor. I'm going to worry about the crime that's being committed or attempting to be committed,” Kleinhelter said. “I mean, if they're turning it off to commit a crime, let's go after the crime.”

Schmitt added that he hopes the law is clear about “intent of concealing a criminal act.”

“It depends on how they determine their intent. That makes it a little bit vague,” he said. “But the body cameras would be the least of our concerns if they're committing a criminal act.”

Parks agreed.

“Sometimes when you're struggling with people, it could be the way things get hit, the way you landed on the ground, or maybe they threw a punch at you and that hit the button,” he said. “There's all types of stuff that happens whenever you get into physical confrontations with people. Sometimes we get our radios ripped off us.”

But he thinks someone who intentionally turns the camera off to hide a criminal act should receive a charge for doing so. “If somebody is turning it off so that they cover something up, they definitely need to be reprimanded or charged,” Parks said.

HB 1006 passed the House with a vote of 96 to 0, with four being excused from voting. Both Bartels and State Rep. Shane Lindauer, R-Jasper, voted for the measure. The bill is now with the Senate’s Corrections and Criminal Committee.

“We don't want bad police officers to leave departments and go to another department without the knowledge of their past conduct,” Bartels said. “We want the good police officers out there.”

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