Holcomb orders body cams for state police, will hire diversity cabinet post


There are two main candidates for the Indiana governor’s race in 2020: Republican incumbent Eric Holcomb and Democratic challenger Woody Myers. Here’s what we know.

Indianapolis Star

In a 30-minute address Tuesday, Gov. Eric Holcomb said “Black lives matter” and promised to tackle systemic racism within the structures of state government.

More specifically, the Republican said he would hire a cabinet-level equality director to examine each state agency and will order reforms at the Indiana State Police, including use-of-force training and requiring body cameras by spring 2021.

With the ongoing equipping of Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Officers with body cameras, that means the state’s two largest police forces will wear body cameras by springtime. 

“For my part,” Holcomb said, “I commit to you that I will work to be a barrier buster. I commit 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 potential.”

A call for justice:Black Caucus members recommend statewide reforms 

Holcomb will face Dr. Woody Myers in the Nov. 3 election. The Democrat nominee for governor felt like the address, offered to local media to televise and live stream in Holcomb’s capacity as governor rather than as a paid campaign advertisement, bled into a campaign speech while also failing to adequately address the issues people of color face. 

“Here we are 77 days before an election when he’s running against an opponent who is an African American business leader, and now we get a set of initiatives that deal with disaffected communities,” Myers said. “Between Govs. Daniels, Pence and now Gov. Holcomb, Republican leadership in this state has had almost 16 years to put forth meaningful initiatives with respect to maternal mortality, environmental policy and on and on.” 

George Floyd murder inspired Holcomb to act

Holcomb said the changes are a reaction to the racial equality protests that have rocked the nation, including Indianapolis, since George Floyd was killed in a choke hold in May by Minneapolis police. He said racism is just as deadly a virus as Covid-19 and it falls upon everyone to fight it. 

He underscored that while the country was founded upon the principles of freedom, for many people, including African Americans, that’s not been the case. He said first slavery and then Jim Crow laws held African Americans back, and now many of our present  systems are systematically biased against people of color. 

“I can’t put myself in a Black person’s shoes,” Holcomb said, “can’t fully appreciate the everyday indignities and slights our friends and associates have had to deal with, let alone the fear of some things I’ve never had to think about. So, I’ve spent considerable time since Mr. Floyd’s death connecting with and listening to Black leaders and stakeholders, one conversation leading to the next, and the next and the next.”

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Gov. Eric Holcomb said he would require front line State Police officers to wear body cameras. (Photo: Mykal McEldowney/IndyStar)

The result, he said, is in part a cabinet-level director, called the chief equity, inclusion and opportunity officer, who will report directly to the governor. The director will work with state agencies to identify and make changes to improve equality and remove hurdles. 

A search will start immediately with candidate interviews this month. 

Here are other reforms Holcomb said he will undertake: 

  • Holcomb said every state police officer who works on the front lines will be required to wear a body camera, potentially about 700.
  • The governor ordered a third-party review of the State Police to create a use-of-force training program that will include, among other topics, an examination of the use of choke holds. 
  • He said he would work with state lawmakers to add civilians to the Indiana Law Enforcement Academy, which is the police training academy for most state, county, city and town officers in Indiana.
  • He said he would work with legislators, police, courts and prosecutors on sentencing reform and jail overcrowding.
  • Holcomb will create a database on the state website to track statistics related to diversity at various state agencies. In addition to improving transparency, he indicated it would show state agencies where they have shortcomings. 
  • He also has asked for recommendations on how to adjust policies for workforce programs to create opportunity for people of color. 

Black caucus responds 

State Rep. Earl Harris Jr., D-East Chicago, vice chairman of the Indiana Black Legislative Caucus, noted the caucus had recommended some of the governor’s suggestions, including the use body cameras and training.

Harris, though, pointed out the caucus also called for more initiatives, which include a ban on the use of no-knock warrants and choke holds, to remove police officers from schools, decriminalize marijuana and require police to live in the city in which they work.

“I would say we would have liked to have heard a little bit more directness and a little bit more of specifics in terms of what he’s thinking,” Harris said. “Part of it is words are easy, but actions really mean something.” 

Harris said he has asked the governor’s office to participate in interviewing and hiring the cabinet director. 

“We would like to be involved,” Harris said. “Creating the position is great and having the person in the cabinet is great, but if it’s not the right person, it’s not going to mean anything.” 

Myers thinks it’s disingenuous 

Myers said he and Holcomb are on uneven footing when it comes to free media exposure, noting the governor’s profile also has benefited from his televised and live streamed news conferences since March to detail the state’s coronavirus response.

Holcomb has raised vastly more campaign money than Myers, who has not had a similar opportunity to speak to a wider audience so frequently free of charge. 

“He’s been doing that in conjunction with many media sources for months now and had to pay zero dollars for that,” Myers said. “Of course, I’ve not had that kind of opportunity.” 

Myers said Holcomb’s racial equality plan is an effort to make it appear he cares about issues to which he has not previously paid much attention. 

“Pardon me for thinking this is disingenuous,” Myers said, “and of course the legislative appropriations that need to come through won’t happen until after the election if they happen at all.” 

Myers has offered his own criminal justice reform plan, including better police training, expanding and better funding of intervention, banning excessive force such as choke holds and decriminalizing marijuana. 

“I think he read our criminal justice reform report that we put out on our website months ago,” Myers said. “He has embraced body cameras as we had specified. We think they should occur on both the officer as well as in the car.” 

Holcomb did not detail how body cameras would be implemented. His office indicated State Police are working on those details. 

Others praise the governor

Republicans largely liked what the governor had to say. 

“I commend Gov. Holcomb for helping move Indiana forward on this important issue,” said Rodric Bray, Senate president pro tempore. “As I have said recently, we in the Indiana Senate – myself included – are also working on these issues by meeting with and listening to groups across the state, including law enforcement and the Indiana Black Legislative Caucus.”

Indiana Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Kevin Brinegar said the governor’s plans are a step toward true equity. 

“The Indiana Chamber vows to continue to pursue policies and programs that will raise up the education level and prosperity of all Hoosiers – especially focusing on those who have been underserved and in greater need. For our businesses and communities to succeed, all of our citizens need to have a pathway to thrive as well.”

Call IndyStar reporter Chris Sikich at 317-444-6036. Follow him on Twitter: @ChrisSikich.

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