According to Indiana State Police, an estimated 4,500 to 5,000 people gathered outside the Indiana Statehouse on Jan. 21 for the Indianapolis Women's March. A new bill proposed in the Indiana Senate could change the way police departments deal with protestors. Grace Ramey // DN File
Senate bill could change police response to protests
A new bill proposed in the Indiana Senate could change the way police departments deal with protestors.
Under the Indiana Senate Bill 285, if 10 or more people are obstructing traffic with a protest, riot or assembly, it will be required for a public official to take action.
The bill, if passed, requires a public official to dispatch all available law enforcement personnel with instructions to clear the roads of persons unlawfully obstructing vehicular traffic, according to the Indiana General Assembly. A mayor, town board or sheriff would tell dispatch to "use any means necessary to clear the roads of the persons unlawfully obstructing vehicular traffic.”
“The object of this measure is very simple. We need to keep our streets and interstates open to commerce, traffic, motorists and emergency personnel," said Sen. James Tomes, the author of the bill.
University Police Chief Jim Duckham has read the bill and said typically, once bills come out by the committee, that's when he starts to really look at it and plan.
Campus protesting isn't anything new to the department, though.
UPD likes to be active and present at all planned protests and rallies on campus, and requests that groups planning to host an event on university grounds fill out a request form.
Once completed, Duckham said UPD meets with event organizers to plan their event and figure out what their goals are. He also said each protest or march is different. If an unplanned demonstration decides to block traffic, UPD would address it on a situational basis.
The department assigns officers in uniform and also plain clothes at events for staff purposes to ensure safety amongst the protesters and the rest of campus.
"Often I assign the detectives to assist at these events,” Duckham said. “By using myself, the assistant chief and detectives, I do not have to deplete my uniform patrol staff and I can keep patrol officers in service to handle normal police calls, enabling me to better manage UPD’s resources.”
So far, UPD's assistance with student-ran protests and the relationships built among student leaders and the department have been peaceful and positive.
“We have been really successful and I think the students know that we are content neutral and we are there to make sure the event goes off safely and if counter protestors come, they don’t disrupt your event," Duckham said.
Indiana Senate Bill 285 was authored by Sen. James Tomes of district 49 and is currently in committee hearings.