Tanya McKinzie: Legislative interference in IMPD won’t build trust

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Trust. Now that is a shared value that we all should think about when considering Senate Bill 168, SB 394, SB 311 and any other anti-community policing bills introduced during this legislative session. Distrust is often considered a deal breaker for most relationships.

All of us have experienced a breach of trust in a relationship at some point in our life, whether it involved a marriage, dating relationship, family member, business associate or friend. When our trust was broken, many of us remained and worked on repairing the relationship, while others left because trying to rebuild trust seemed too difficult and even overwhelming. When we believe in the relationship (or even rely on it), we know that both sides have to be committed to the process of rebuilding trust.

The lack of trust between the community and law enforcement is not a new occurrence; mistrust has been rooted in our history (a Black history fact for the month of February). Today’s modern-day policing was birthed out of slave patrols in which the job of white men was to keep slaves in check. A disheartening reality is that biases of some officers, whether unconscious or otherwise, remain toward Black people. George Floyd’s murder last year is a visual reminder.

As a result of decades of brutality and harassment, Black people often view police officers with suspicion. Many even see them as dangerous. This is the reason that Black parents have “the talk” with their children to urge them to be careful if pulled over by an officer and the reason police departments have a difficult time hiring Black officers to diversify their departments.

Even more consequential is the reason too many murders in our city remain unsolved and too many people of color do not trust the police. This is the result of our history of trauma. This is the result of turning on the television and constantly seeing unarmed Black people killed by police across our country. And this may even be the result of someone’s harmful encounter with an IMPD officer.

The only way to change this narrative is to rebuild trust between the police department and the Black community. The Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department General Orders Board is a necessary step in this rebuilding phase. Contrary to those who frown upon civilian input into IMPD policies and practices, civilian oversight was never put in place to pit the community against our officers. Its purpose is to do exactly the opposite—to work alongside each other to improve trust and even legitimacy for the police department by enhancing input on rulemaking processes.

If enacted, SB 168 (which would shift control of IMPD from city government to a board appointed largely by the governor) and SB 394 (which would eliminate civilian oversight of police departments), would only increase the tension between law enforcement and our community that goes back more than a century. The proposals now appear dead, but the ideas are likely to return.

How is civilian oversight and enhanced use-of-force standards like those adopted by IMPD—which call for reasonableness and proportionality—the problem that needs to be addressed? How is our governor’s oversight going to address the underlying issue of trust? With civilian oversight via the IMPD General Orders Board, I have no doubt that cooperation will increase and people will more readily engage in contacting the police with information—and our neighborhoods will be safer.

Trust is a two-way street. We stand ready for reconciliation and we are committed to rebuild a meaningful relationship built on trust. Where do law enforcement and our government leadership stand?•

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McKinzie is CEO and president of Indiana Black Expo.

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