By David Denson
In the wake of the deaths of numerous African Americans at the hands of police officers, Mayor Jerome Prince has joined members of the Indiana Black Legislative Caucus in calling for sweeping levels of reform in police departments locally and statewide.
The call for reform comes after Gary and cities throughout Northwest Indiana experienced numerous protests of police brutality following the brutal death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota. During a protest rally held Friday, June 5, in front of city hall, event speakers called for the establishment of a citizen review board that would monitor police behavior.
Members of the local Black Lives Matter organization have been calling for the review board for several years, even lobbying former mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson’s support during her tenure as mayor.
Last week, Prince tweeted “I will issue an executive order establishing a Commission to examine our police use of force policies and to make recommendations for improvements.” Earlier this week he announced that he would issue an executive order to create a civilian commission. “This week, I am signing an executive order establishing a commission of civic and business leaders, community activists, faith leaders and community organizations to propose meaningful police reform. As part of this work, the committee will investigate what, if any, policing responsibilities can be shifted to other departments,” said Prince.
He also addressed the issue of defunding police departments that has recently become a part of the debate on policing. Defunding any police department covers a wide spectrum of ideas. “I can’t speak to decisions on defunding other cities and towns because their leaders know their communities better than I do. If something along that spectrum makes the most sense for Gary, I will consider it,” Prince said.
The Indiana Black Legislative Caucus is calling on Gov. Eric Holcomb to issue an executive order banning the use of choke hold restraints or other means of restraints that cut off a person’s ability to breathe during an arrest.
“We urge the Governor to immediately establish a Statewide Criminal Justice Commission, including a diverse appointing of civilian representatives from cities with significant African American populations, to examine every aspect of the state’s criminal justice system and recommend comprehensive criminal justice reform, including the eradication of racist policing policies,” said the caucus in a statement issued following a press conference on Friday, June 5, in Indianapolis.
The IBLC will hold virtual town hall meetings on June 11 and June 25 to get citizen input on the Legislative Action Plan.
Among the issues they are addressing include the statewide use of body and dashboard cameras; appointment of a special prosecutor for investigating police misconduct and use of fatal excessive force; public reporting of lethal force involving law enforcement; implementation of a statewide database for citizens’ complaints against law enforcement officers; an anti-racial profiling law; and enhanced penalties for officer-involved shootings; inclusive hate crime legislation.
Considered a major issue is ensuring FOP contracts are of public record and requiring a public hearing for renewal.
Important in changing the culture is a confidential whistleblower complaint process for officers; mental health reviews for police officers; a review of implicit bias dispute solution and de-escalation training for police officers.
The proposals will be drafted into legislation to be introduced during the 2021 legislative session.