Indiana Black Caucus pushes for police accountability

Associated Press/Report For America

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The Indiana Black Legislative Caucus called Thursday for state lawmakers to increase accountability and transparency for the state’s police officers.

Caucus members released a wide-ranging package of criminal justice reform proposals that they plan to push for during next year’s legislative session. Key to their policy agenda is establishing more frequent audits on public safety funds, funding body and dash cameras, reducing law enforcement in schools, automatic external investigations for officer-involved shootings, and requiring all law enforcement agencies to obtain independent liability insurance.

Marijuana decriminalization, enhanced protester protections and studying racism as a public health crisis are among the more than three dozen other points outlined by the caucus.

“We’re trying to keep the movement going,” Rep. Robin Shackleford said at a news conference Thursday. “We want to galvanize the voices of the streets into legislation.”

The reform agenda follows protests across the state about racial justice and police brutality, spurred by the police killing of George Floyd.

In June, the caucus called on Gov. Eric Holcomb to address justice reform in Indiana with a list of “immediate action items” that includes putting bans on chokeholds, racial profiling and no-knock warrants.

Shackleford said the governor has been “polite” and that caucus members have spoken with him several times, but added that she would like to “see more action from Gov. Holcomb, and immediate action.”

Rep. Earl Harris said the caucus has been working with various groups throughout the state – including the Indiana Sheriff's Association, the Indiana State Police superintendent and victims of police-action shootings – to advocate for changes in police culture that can lead to racial profiling and police brutality.

Those changes include creating a whistleblower complaint process to make it easier for officers to come forward with complaints against other officers, as well as creating a statewide tracking system of officers who have complaints or prior disciplinary action.

“The last thing different agencies want is for one of their officers that has been a problem to then be able to go to another agency, or for them to take in someone, that they don't know has a history of problems,” Harris said.

The caucus also wants to pave the way for local leaders to establish independent civilian review boards to oversee public complaints of police violence, Harris said.

But while Shackleford said the caucus believes in “re-imagining and restructuring the police,” they don't support completely defending or eliminating the police. Funding is needed to change how police officers are trained and to ensure that all are equipped with cameras — which Shackleford emphasized requires legislative oversight — but said there is still "the need for law enforcement in our communities.”

Lawmakers are required to have legislation proposals together by December. Shackleford said caucus members anticipate proposing several new bills to be addressed during the 2021 legislative session, but because Democrats are the super-minority in the state's General Assembly, they anticipate they'll spend more time drafting amendments to current laws.

More on