Brid Peoples | Staff Writer
As a non-native of the United States, the prevalence of violence and gun culture left me feeling somewhat apprehensive about living here. There were 96 criminal homicides from the beginning of 2023 until the end of June in the City of Indianapolis, “putting the city on pace to 192 homicides this year,” according to Axios Indianapolis. Reporting from Axios has revealed that Indianapolis has recorded 200 criminal homicides every year since 2019, rising in turn with other Mid-Western cities and the national rate. With violence of all kinds on the rise, as a young woman and also a foreigner, it is important to me that the police and legislators do what they can to make us safer in Indianapolis. A recent Republican-sponsored law aims to do exactly that.
Republican state Rep. Jim Pressel said Indianapolis will be safer as a result of the House Enrolled Act 1186. According to the Times of Northwest Indiana, Pressel said the law will improve officer and public safety by preventing distractions to law enforcement that could give criminal suspects the opportunity to become violent.
The bill was written by Republican state Rep. Wendy McNamara. According to this law, a person who “knowingly or intentionally” approaches within 25 feet of law enforcement engaging with their duties after the law enforcement officer has ordered the person to stop approaching “commits unlawful encroachment on an investigation.” The violation of HEA 1186 is a Class C misdemeanor, which can include up to 60 days of jail time and up to a $500 fine, according to Avnet Law. Channel 8 News reported that McNamara said she wrote the bill as officers increasingly have to manage an active crime scene while simultaneously dealing with interference from bystanders. The Indiana Capital Chronicle quoted McNamara in the House Courts and Criminal Code Committee saying, “If there’s something that we can do [for] preventing that escalation, preventing the officer from being touched by someone who’s not even involved in the situation, I hope that this bill is the one to do it.”
Increased legislation to target the rising crime rate would seem to be a positive step. In recent years, there has been an uptick in officer-involved shootings, CBS reported. The numbers of shootings in 2021 were higher than both 2020 and 2019.
Indianapolis Fraternal Order of Police President Rick Snyder said to CBS4 that, “The vitriol and the violence towards officers is absolutely increasing,” which he said reflected an “overall increase in violence.” In 2022 and 2023 alone, there were 33 officer-involved shootings that resulted in at least one death in Indianapolis, according to data collected by the Washington Post. According to the numbers, all but two of the victims were armed.
It would be purely speculative to try and determine if the number of shootings, deaths and injuries over recent years could have been decreased if the 25-foot rule was introduced earlier. However, there is an already established training technique taught in police academies across the country, called the “21-foot Rule,” according to PBS. Essentially, this rule asserts that a potential attacker or suspect could cover a distance of about 21 feet towards an officer before that officer could identify the threat, unholster and fire their weapon. It is important to state that although this rule is taught to police cadets around the country, it is merely a guideline and not based on law or science. However, common sense tells me that law enforcement officers would need sufficient time and space to react to any potential threats. Officers keeping themselves safe provides for them to keep us regular civilians safe too.
Of course it is important for the public to hold law enforcement accountable and film and record activities that breaches citizens’ rights. After all, that is how the world found out about George Floyd’s murder. However, to keep the public safe, a balance needs to be struck. Yes, it may be annoying that you may be legally required to move back from a scene if an officer orders you to, but who are we to question if it helps keep our streets safer?
Hannah Hadley | Opinion Editor
Signed into law by Gov. Eric J. Holcomb, Indiana House Enrolled Act 1186 gives law enforcement officers power to enforce a 25 foot border all around a designated “emergency incident area” (e.g. crime scene), according to the General Assembly’s website. The law states that officers can charge those that intentionally trespass the boundary with a Class C misdemeanor, which can carry up to a $500 fine and up to 60 days in jail, according to an article from The Law Office of Joseph M. Roberts LLC’s website. HEA 1186 is unconstitutional, too vague and effectively squashes the notion of government accountability by the public and media by attempting to limit the ability to record and view police officers at crime scenes.
Although the law went into effect July 1, according to the Indiana Daily Student, challenges to the statute have already risen. Several recent and previous court rulings have found that recording active-duty police is part of the freedoms outlined in the First Amendment, according to the Free Speech Center at Middle Tennessee State University. ACLU v. Alvarez was a lawsuit between the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois and the State Attorney for Cook County, IL (Anita Alvarez) regarding the right to film law enforcement officers in public. The suit’s initial ruling in favor of the county was overturned by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit—which includes Indiana—in 2011 as being unconstitutional. Similarly to ACLU v. Alvarez, the ACLU of Indiana is challenging HEA 1186 as unconstitutional on the grounds of the First Amendment after a South Bend police officer used the law to require a videographer to move back 25 feet from a crime scene area. It is obvious to me that HEA 1186 is unconstitutional due to precedent set by several courts that says trying to curb civilian recording of police is illegal.
Those who support HEA 1186 claim it is “yet another tool to keep first responders safe,” according to a broadcast from WTHR. As much as I agree that police officers and other law enforcement deserve safety when carrying out their jobs, I do not believe a law with this wide array of interpretation and individual discretion can do that. HEA 1186 dictates that a single law enforcement officer, with their own discretion, can order a bystander to back away from the emergency incident area, according to an article from FOX59. However, the law vaguely details what constitutes an “emergency incident area,” defined by “police or firefighters with flags, barricades, barrier tape or other markers.” So, does that mean that different officers all have different interpretations of the bystanders and the beginning of the emergency incident area? Does that mean the law is not “narrowly tailored?” How does a law protect police when there is no concrete standard to stand by?
Proponents of HEA 1186 may bring up that with today’s camera technology, 25 feet does not do much to curb video recording or bystander observance. The recording argument may be partially true with an expensive, professional camera, but the average citizen does not have one of those. As an owner of a newer iPhone, even my own up-to-date camera system gets blurry trying to zoom in more than about five feet (not to mention audio recording is also protected under the First Amendment and is nearly impossible to do 25 feet away from an already blocked-off area). The bystander argument is null, as well, when over two-thirds of the U.S. population needs to wear prescription eyewear, according to the Washington Post. Being able to freely record and easily watch police carry out official executive duties are vital to a democratic society with checks and balances of power. In a country where an instance of filmed police brutality prompted one of the largest protests in U.S. history (Google “Black Lives Matter protests”), according to the New York Times, it seems like general public safety has a serious investment in the topic. I ask myself, “How many serious crimes are committed against law enforcement officers by bystanders of a crime scene?” It seems to me that Indiana’s legislature is addressing an issue that is, well, not really an issue. In the end, how are We, the People—AND the media, serving as government watchdogs—supposed to hold the government accountable if we can not even see what it is doing?