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Strengthening community at center of Democratic candidates' police reform plan
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Strengthening community at center of Democratic candidates' police reform plan

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Improving the relationship between law enforcement and Hoosier communities will be a top priority for the state if the Democratic candidates for Indiana governor and lieutenant governor are elected in November.

Dr. Woody Myers and former Hammond state Rep. Linda Lawson — the first woman to serve on the Hammond police force — today are issuing a six-point plan for reforming Indiana's criminal justice system, following the May 25 police-involved murder of George Floyd in Minnesota and the protests that followed in the Region, state and nation.

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Their plan, provided exclusively to The Times ahead of the public release, aims to change how police serve citizens, hold police more accountable, re-prioritize resources by reexamining who gets locked up, and to combat long overlooked racial injustices.

"A lot of what's happening now is going to be painful on all sides, it's not going to be something that's welcome. I think that there's going to be a lot of angst," said Lawson, the Democratic lieutenant governor nominee.

"But I also think that change is good, and it's going to be great for law enforcement in the long-run and it's going to be great for the community. 

"Community building, whether its community policing or being involved more in what happens in the community and the people that live there, is going to be the best bolster and the best support that law enforcement could ever get. Because once your community is behind you, there's not going to be these questions about what is going on."

She emphasized the Myers-Lawson plan does not seek to "defund the police," a policy for which some activists are calling. 

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Rather, Lawson said, it reorients the police to once again being in and among the people they serve as she said Hammond officers were during her 24 years on the job.

"When you know your community, and you know the people that live on each block and you know the kids, when you know them and you recognize them, it's really hard to be a jerk," Lawson said.

"So building those bridges and building that community strength is the most important thing."

To that end, Myers and Lawson are proposing to:

  • Expand intervention programs to keep vulnerable people, such as the homeless or mentally ill, out of courts and prisons and halting the school-to-prison pipeline for children.
  • End police brutality by mandating new training procedures on implicit bias, de-escalation and excessive force, as well as banning chokeholds and creating a whistleblower system for officers to report bad cops.
  • Reprioritize police funding based on needs identified by local communities, expanding investments in low-income neighborhoods and minority-owned businesses and emphasizing best practices at the Indiana Law Enforcement Academy.
  • Establish zero-tolerance accountability policies for police misconduct, including creating a statewide, public database of citizen complaints and officer disciplinary records, forming a nonpolitical Indiana Criminal Justice Commission and requiring independent investigations of police misconduct, excessive force and fatalities.
  • Support sustainable community development by eliminating employment barriers, expanding access to affordable housing, transportation and food and bolstering investment in public schools primarily serving minority and low-income students.
  • Eliminate criminal penalties for low-level marijuana possession, expunging prior marijuana possession convictions and legalizing medicinal marijuana.
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"We must rethink how law enforcement serves their fellow citizens, how we measure and track their compliance with our laws and policies and how we hold them accountable," Myers said.

"We must reprioritize our resources and re-examine our policies on who we detain in our prisons and jails, and for how long."

Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb likewise has pledged in the months ahead, and a potential second term, to enact policies aimed at correcting inequality and racial disparities at the city, state and national level.

"We must harness, not squander, the energy generated in the aftermath of the Floyd injustice by creating a to-do list, and prescribe those action steps that address better health care access, affordable housing, educational opportunity, job training and placement, urban economic development, access to capital and yes, criminal justice reform, as well as policing standards and race relations," he said.

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