INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb announced steps Tuesday toward tackling racial injustice concerns that include equipping state police troopers with body cameras and hiring a state government equality officer who’ll report directly to him.
The Republican governor discussed his plans in an online speech after the Indiana Black Legislative Caucus called last week for increased accountability for the state’s police officers — and 11 weeks after protests over the death of George Floyd in Minnesota turned violent in Indianapolis and left behind widespread damage to downtown businesses.
Holcomb described racism as a “virus that’s equally voracious” as the coronavirus outbreak for the state and nation.
“It’s in turn forcing us to a reckoning as a state and nation – one that’s built on ‘equality for all,’” he said.
Democratic governor candidate Woody Myers, an African American who is challenging Holcomb in the November election, disparaged Holcomb’s proposals as disingenuous for coming after nearly 16 years of Republican control of the governor’s office.
“This is an effort to make people feel good about his willingness to address a set of issues that up until now he’s not been willing to address,” Myers said in an interview.
Holcomb said he would have every “front-line state trooper” wearing a body camera by spring of 2021. The Black Legislative Caucus, made up of 13 Black Democratic lawmakers, called last week for body and dashboard cameras for police agencies statewide.
State police will need to spend about $5 million to purchase body cameras for some 700 troopers, with it then costing about $1.5 million a year to manage the video data, state police Superintendent Doug Carter said.
Holcomb also said an outside review would be conducted of the training practices and curriculum at the Indiana Law Enforcement Academy, which is operated by the state police and provides the basic training of new officers for most police agencies across the state.
The new chief equity, inclusion and opportunity officer position announced by Holcomb will be a cabinet-level position dedicated to working with state agencies to identify and make changes to improve equality in the workplace and with government services.
“For my part, I commit to you that I will work to be a barrier buster and to bring greater equity and opportunity within your state government and the services you entrust us to provide so that every Hoosier can take full advantage of their gifts and of their potential,” Holcomb said.
Myers, who is the first Black major party nominee for Indiana governor, said steps such as requiring police body cameras should have been taken years ago, while he questioned the equity officer would have the authority to make significant changes.
Myers also faulted Holcomb and Republicans who dominate the Legislature for not earlier tackling problems such as low teacher pay and a lack of public health funding that have disproportionately hurt minority communities.
“I just think it is disingenuous to make us think now that there is a genuine concern when there hasn’t been for such a long, long time,” Myers said.
Holcomb briefly spoke about the protests in late May and early June that drew out thousands of people in Indianapolis and other cities around the state after the killing of Floyd, the Black man whose death at the hands of a white Minneapolis police officer sparked worldwide demonstrations for police reform.
He praised police officers killed in the line of duty while admonishing those who turned to violence during the protests.
“I say, if you want change, don’t throw that brick. Use it to build a foundation for something better,” Holcomb said. “I feel for the shop owners — many of them people of color — whose stores were damaged by looters.”
The governor didn’t mention the alleged assault on a Black man who says he was attacked at southern Indiana Lake Monroe and that someone threatened to “get a noose.” Two white face criminal charges in the July Fourth weekend confrontation that gained attention across the country.
The Black Legislative Caucus said Holcomb was “taking steps in the right direction.”
“Governor Holcomb’s words must be followed by swift action and a good start would be to facilitate much needed support from Republicans in the General Assembly,” the group said in a statement. “While a review of our law enforcement academy and curriculum is needed, the governor must put concrete plans in place now to protect our Black Hoosier community. Banning the use of no-knock warrants, racial profiling and chokeholds from our law enforcement would further demonstrate the governor’s solidarity with Black and brown Hoosiers.”