March 24, 2012

Bill might send bad message

Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels says he thought carefully before signing a bill that lays out when individuals would be legally justified in using force against police officers.

He said he shared the concern of law enforcement organizations that the new law might be misinterpreted, but he said he signed it because he believed the measure actually tightened the restrictions on a citizen using force in a confrontation with the police.

I hope he’s right.

The bill won huge support in the Indiana House and Senate.

Lawmakers had been flooded with angry calls and emails after the Indiana Supreme Court issued a ruling saying that Hoosiers did not have the right to resist a police officer entering their homes illegally.

Critics conjured up images of Nazi storm troopers knocking down doors, and they complained that the decision would take away rights that had been part of common law for hundreds of years.

Some of the more vocal critics suggested that they certainly would resist if the cops came crashing through the front door, court decision or no court decision.

Police organizations, of course, supported the court’s ruling. They saw it as a common sense decision that would save lives.

I agree.

The time to be debating whether police officers have a right to come into your house is not in the heat of the moment. Telling anyone that it might be OK from time to time to point a gun at a police officer seems to me to be inviting tragedy.

My advice to anyone who sees police officers crashing through the front door is to do whatever they tell you to do. If they say, “Put up your hands,” do it. If they order you to drop to the floor, do that, too.

The time to argue is when you have a lawyer standing next to you in a court of law. Let the lawyers debate about the technicalities of the law. Let a judge decide whether the police were really acting within their authority.

Very little good can come from fighting back when an officer tells you to stop resisting and put your hands behind your back. About the best thing you can hope for when you tell a cop to get out of your house is a bloody nose.

I’m not saying police officers are always right. They’re fallible like any other human being.

There have even been cases where the police crashed through the wrong door and rousted an innocent homeowner who simply had the misfortune of living next door to a drug dealer.

Mistakes happen.

My hope is that no criminal suspect will take the new law as an invitation to challenge the police department’s authority to do its job.

Too many police officers are already killed or injured in the line of duty.

With luck, the governor’s fears and mine will prove unfounded.

We can all hope that folks will interpret the law in the same way the governor does and conclude that there are very few instances when it would be a good idea to escalate a confrontation with police.

Had I been the governor, I would have vetoed this measure.

The message Indiana should be sending to its residents is that the Supreme Court was right. There is no time when it’s appropriate to resist a police officer coming into your home.

This is not Nazi Germany. Police do not have the right to run roughshod over this nation’s citizens.

We have rights guaranteed us by the Constitution, and the best way to defend those rights is in a court of law.

• Kelly Hawes is managing editor of the Pharos-Tribune. He can be reached at 574-732-5155 or

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