ANOTHER VIEWPOINT: City a model for state on police reform

After prodding from The Journal Gazette, a report on state-level law enforcement agencies was released last week. It offers hopeful recommendations to revamp the training, tracking and practices of thousands of Indiana’s officers.

Gov. Eric Holcomb commissioned the report after pledging in 2020 – amid a national reckoning on police use of force – to foster “an inclusive and equitable environment for all Hoosiers to take part in.” He made it public Oct. 25, following a public records request from JG Statehouse reporter Niki Kelly.

The 100-page analysis of policies, procedures and training materials from agencies such as the Indiana Law Enforcement Academy, Capitol Police Services, Gaming Police and State Police suggests adding civilian oversight to some agencies. Hillard Heintze, the Chicago firm hired by the state to write the report, found the Indiana State Police tracks use-of-force incidents, but it doesn’t have in place a way to flag problem officers – something the firm says warrants changes.

Police agencies also should make training uniform at police academies, including one run by the Fort Wayne Police Department, according to the assessment. Each now has its own curriculum and training.

Some changes, such as outfitting state troopers with body cameras, already have been made. Agencies have committed to others, including establishing a de-escalation response program at the state Law Enforcement Academy.

The danger inherent with any report is that it becomes nothing more than a dust collector on a shelf in some high-level official’s office. The state shouldn’t let that happen, and leaders such as Holcomb can help ensure recommendations become reality by continuing to push for improvement.

“I will continue to do my part to assure the citizens of Indiana that law enforcement officers are operating according to the highest standards,” the governor said in a statement announcing the release of the Hillard Heintze report.

The work of a local panel with Fort Wayne police provides a framework.

The city’s Commission on Police Reform and Racial Justice was created in June 2020, around the same time Holcomb issued his pledge. Members worked for about a year on recommendations, which were released this year.

Some – body cameras, better training for police – were already being acted upon. But the process didn’t end with the issuance of the recommendations.

Commission members and police continued to talk, leading to more action.

Training on diversity and inclusion is now mandatory for each of Fort Wayne’s nearly 500 officers. A goal to equip 300 of them with body cameras by the end of next year is on track to be met, Fort Wayne Police Department spokesman Jeremy Webb said last week.

The Fort Wayne Board of Safety was expanded from three to five members.

The city on Thursday highlighted the work of two recently hired social workers, another suggestion that came out of recommendations from the commission. The social workers, paid for with grant money from the Lutheran Foundation, have helped police direct 167 people struggling with substance abuse to therapists and social service agencies.

City Councilwoman Michelle Chambers, who co-chaired the local commission, said Friday that communication and transparency were key to achieving action. Studying the impact of the changes should come next, she said.

“I am very happy with our progress,” Chambers said. “We’re definitely heading in the right direction.”

Webb said open lines of communication and transparency are essential to building effective relationships.

“Collaboration is the cornerstone for successful outcomes,” he wrote in an email.

Holcomb and state police agencies should take note.