In just the first week of the 2021 Indiana Legislative Session, several pieces of legislation have been introduced in an attempt to take power and oversight of local police departments away from the very communities' police departments are meant to serve.
Legislators are getting creative in their attempts to make it impossible for municipalities to reimagine policing. These bills aim to set limits on the abilities of municipalities to control funding and policy reform for local police departments.
Communities all over the country, and here in Indiana, spent the summer protesting police brutality, demanding that elected officials divest from police and reinvest in the community. In many places, these calls to action led to powerful conversations between communities of color and city officials.
As cities make strides to reform police use-of-force policies, and re-evaluate spending following requests from local communities, Indiana legislators are clearly making an effort to curb such progress and roll back some of the community-led reforms that have been put in place.
Several bills introduced, including SB 34, SB 42, HB 1205 and HB 1070, would set limits on decreasing police department budgets. Some language would even set limits based on whether or not crime rates have decreased, despite research that shows that more policing does not equate to less crime. In fact, studies have shown in time periods we have seen decreases in police we have also seen a decrease in crime.
If Indiana legislators truly want to decrease crime in Indiana, they will stop trying to take power away from local communities, and instead focus on reinvesting into community programs and services that have been proven to decrease crime such as mental health services and education. Right now, the majority of police are being deployed in response to nonviolent crime, that mental health professionals and social workers are better fit to address.
An Associated Press poll from June, 2020 found that the vast majority of Americans believe that the criminal legal system needs to change — including a large majority of Republicans. Hoosiers are demanding this change as well. The 2020 Bowen Center Hoosier survey found that “The issue ranked as a top priority by the greatest number of Hoosiers was improving public safety, with 63% of Hoosiers ranking it as a top priority and another 34% ranking it as “important but not a top priority.” It is clear that Hoosiers are ready for broad changes to law enforcement policies, practices, and cultures. More of the same simply will not do.
Now is the time to fight for bold, new approaches in policing, and additional community oversight. It is the time to fight for racial justice in the criminal legal system.
We will bring you new details on these and other bills throughout session on our bill tracker.