As construction and remodeling continue on the new home of the Terre Haute Police Department, U.S. Sen. Todd Young visited with local law enforcement Monday to talk about issues and legislation.
“You've got a new 21st century law enforcement center here to support our officers who are doing a great job and doing everything within their realm of possibility to keep the community safe during a very difficult time for our country,” the senior U.S. senator from Indiana said during a brief media availability session outside the future THPD headquarters at 222 S. Seventh Street.
Young, a Republican, met with THPD Chief Shawn Keen and police officers for a private roundtable discussion prior to a tour of the new headquarters.
Young's visit was in advance of Police Appreciation Week from May 9 to 15.
Congress is currently considering police reform legislation from U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, R-South Carolina, and Young said he supports that legislation. One of the sticking points that must be worked out between Republicans and Democrats, Young said, is qualified immunity for officers who are trying to do the right thing in difficult situations.
Qualified immunity refers to legal protections for police officers that make it difficult to sue them. The U.S. Supreme Court has said qualified immunity "balances important interests—the need to hold public officials accountable when they exercise power irresponsibly and the need to shield officials from harassment, distraction, and liability when they perform their duties reasonably.”
Critics of the doctrine as it has been applied say it provides nearly a blanket of protection for police, even when their actions are less than reasonable and should be actionable in civil court.
Scott's current legislation also includes provisions for body cameras and database searches for job applicants, Young said.
The senator said he has resisted calls to defund police and get rid of qualified immunity and legal protections for police. Young said he has also heard from Hoosiers who say they support law enforcement and want to maintain liability protections.
“Every member of law enforcement wants to ensure that bad cops receive heavy scrutiny,” Young said. “No one more than cops themselves want to ensure that their profession does not receive a bad name because of a bad cop consistently making egregiously bad decisions.”
As for the new THPD headquarters, Young said he thinks the new facility is a much-needed upgrade.
“I think it's really important that our officers feel supported and that includes having the best places to work,” Young said.
Chief Keen agreed.
THPD has been in its current, 131-year-old building for 17 years as plans for a new headquarters stalled until last year.
“At the community level I'm excited we will be able to move out of that building,” Keen said. “It's going to add to our professionalism, to our accreditation and other things. It's hard to do when you are in a building that old and it's in that shape. I think this is going to be a good start to further our level of professionalism.”
Keen showed Sen. Young through the site at 222 S. Seventh St., the former home of the Tribune-Star newspaper, which moved to The Meadows in December 2019.
The tour of the building was not open to media due to security concerns, particularly in light of a recent criminal attack on the current THPD location at Wabash Avenue and Twelfth Streets. In that incident, a person allegedly tried to ignite an improvised explosive device outside an unused exterior door. The suspect was arrested and awaits court hearings.
Keen said the public will have access to the new building once security measures and staff are in place.
“It's going to be open to the public and more conducive to customer service when they walk in those doors,” Keen said. “We think the community is going to feel more welcome when they come in here.”
Adequate public parking and a prominent entrance will lead into the police lobby.
A memorial for fallen police officers will also be at the front of the building.
Keen said he was pleased that Young spoke to officers and asked for their input.
THPD is “ahead of the curve” on de-escalation training, Keen said, and he favors many aspects of the current legislation that Young supports.
The chief said he also supports recently approved state legislation that calls for decertification of officers who run afoul of department policy and who violate use of force training.
“I have no problem with any of the state legislation on decertification,” Keen said, adding that THPD is already in compliance with training on de-escalation, choke holds, body cameras and other issues.
Keen said he supports the requirement to report an officer to the law enforcement board for decertifying when appropriate.
Keen said he continues to meet regularly with the contractors working on the new police station, and he hopes the project stays on track for August completion.
Lisa Trigg can be reached at 812-231-4254 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at TribStarLisa.