Indianapolis-area state senators target criminal justice system with new bills

Republican legislators on Thursday introduced a spate of new bills targeting the criminal justice system in the Indianapolis area and across Indiana. Five Republican state senators representing parts of Marion County are taking aim at bail and electronic monitoring policies, and pushing for greater inter-agency cooperation and extra funding.

Overall violent crime in Indianapolis is down this year, but homicides and non-fatal shootings are trending up, the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department has said.

“I told our guys that it’s about time that we act, that we do something, to try to help our community,” said Indiana Sen. Michael Young, R-Indianapolis, who chairs the body’s Corrections and Criminal Law Committee.

“We all live here, and we work here. … And we’re going to play our role and do what we can to help protect our citizens,” Young said Thursday at a news conference at the Indiana Statehouse.

Young’s legislation, Senate Bill 6, would limit bail for those it defines as “violent” arrestees.

It would require courts to stick to their bail schedules, with minimum bail for the arrestee’s most serious alleged offense and doubled amounts for those with previous violent crime convictions.

Young’s bill would also make arrestees that meet the definition to pay the bail in cash—no surety bonds allowed, and no payments by third parties allowed. Only a “close relative” would be able to pay.

Sen. Jack Sandlin’s bill, SB 7, would push public safety agencies operating specifically in downtown Indianapolis to cooperate more easily through a pilot “crime reduction board.”

The board would be able to approve interoperability agreements between agencies to coordinate responsibilities and coverage areas. It would include IMPD’s chief, the Indiana Department of Homeland Security’s executive director, Indiana University’s Indianapolis campus’ police chief, the Marion County Sheriff, and a dozen other positions.

IMPD would be tasked with hosting and administratively supporting the body. The pilot would expire in 2027.

“Making sure all of our law enforcement agencies have access to all available information and resources is just one way we can help reduce crime in the downtown policing districts,” Sandlin said in written remarks. “Communication is key, and I believe allowing everyone involved to work as one entity with common goals is going to push us in the right direction.”

Sen. Aaron Freeman announced a bill cracking down on charitable bail organizations, such as The Bail Project’s Indianapolis chapter.

SB 8 prohibit such organizations from bailing out individuals charged with a felony. It would force such organizations to get a two-year, $300 certification with Indiana’s Department of Insurance if they planned to bail out more than two people every 180 days. The not-for-profits would be limited to paying cash bails, with a $2,000 cap.

Indiana and lower levels of government would be banned from paying anyone’s bail or providing grants to bail-paying groups, while charitable bail organizations that take government money would similarly be banned from paying bail.

And when a bail does go through, courts would require the not-for-profits to hand over all or part of the bail to pay for the attorneys, fines and fees that would otherwise be publicly paid.

Freeman told reporters he had not spoken with The Bail Project, which has been under fire for three cases in which it bailed out people who went on to commit additional violence.

He didn’t totally rule out speaking to the organization, saying “I’m always happy to talk to anybody who is as concerned about a bill as I am.”

Several media outlets reported Thursday that Marion County Superior Court was officially suspending its support for the The Bail Project.

SB 9, from Sen. Kyle Walker, R-Lawrence, would crack down on electronic monitoring.

The legislation would task supervising agencies or third-party contractors to set a 1-to-29 employee-to-tracked person ratio and to establish a host of new protocols related to approved and unapproved locations, contingency plans, contractor ownership and more.

It would also set 15-minute time limits for monitors to notify supervising agencies when people with monitoring devices are unavailable or are somewhere they shouldn’t be, and 15-minute limits for public safety agencies to send out officers to apprehend them.

People on electronic monitoring would commit a Level 6 felony of “escape” if they tried to disable or interfere with their device.

Sen. Michael Crider’s SB 10 would launch another pilot program, this one to give “high-crime” areas extra funds for overtime and other services.

The initiative would establish a grant program specific to Marion County, run by the Indiana Criminal Justice Institute, to fund public safety agency overtime and other efforts in areas experiencing higher rates of violence.

The institute would get $500,000 a year to give out to applicant agencies. The pilot would also go to December 2027.

“This program would allow us to target areas being affected most by crime,” Crider said in written comments. “By allocating resources where they are needed most, we will be able to have more boots on the ground keeping our citizens safe.”

Speaking from the Statehouse, Rick Snyder, president of Indianapolis’ Fraternal Order of Police chapter, said city officials need to be more urgent about finding crime solutions.

“I want to strongly encourage the leaders of Indianapolis on the other end of Market Street to get to a podium and start talking about what they can do on their end to address these issues. Indy can’t wait. Indiana can’t wait, with this being our capital city.”

Young walked back on those remarks, telling reporters, “Let me just make this clear, [since] I know we talked about the other end of Market Street. … We want to work together with them.”

Young also expressed support for IMPD.

“Now, I’m not sure they’re doing the best they can,” Young said. “I know they’re understaffed. … They don’t have enough personnel as they’re supposed to have, and we want to be helpful. We’re not saying they’re not doing their jobs. We want to help them do a better job and give them more resources to protect our citizens.”

Indianapolis has its own crime plan in the works.

Mayor Joe Hogsett in August unveiled a $166 million anti-violence plan, with money going to IMPD, community violence intervention programming, grants for community organizations doing anti-violence work, and “root cause” programming for mental health, hunger, workforce development training and workforce re-entry, among others.

Young said the package of legislation would be heard Jan. 11.