By Lesley Weidenbener
INDIANAPOLIS – Lawmakers are continuing to tinker with a plan to send extra cash for crime fighting to Marion, Lake and Allen counties as they face a Thursday deadline for action.
Senate Bill 551 creates a pilot program that’s meant to increase the number of police on duty in high crime areas. But questions about who would manage the money and evaluate the results have the legislation bottled up in the House Veterans and Public Safety Committee.
Twice, the committee has postponed a vote on the bill, which passed the Senate unanimously in February. Committee members told the bill’s sponsor, Rep. David Frizzell, R-Indianapolis, that they want changes.
On Tuesday, Frizzell offered an amendment that would give the Indiana Criminal Justice Institute – which typically distributes federal grants – the task of determining the high crime districts in Allen, Lake and Marion counties and then issuing grants to pay for overtime shifts or other crime reduction efforts.
The institute would also issue a report by the end of 2016 detailing how the money was used.
But the amendment also calls on the Criminal Justice Institute to send the money to the police chief of the largest city in Allen and Lake counties, who would then distribute it to other law enforcement agencies. That makes sense in Allen County, where Fort Wayne is by far the largest community.
But Rep. Ed Soliday, R-Valparaiso, said the “highly charged political environment” in Lake County makes that system fairly unworkable. The county is full of smaller cities – and the public officials in them don’t all get along.
Soliday said the bill would “be much more palatable” if the Criminal Justice Institute determined which communities received money and how much – and then handled the actual distributions. That would also allow the institute to hold “the spenders of the money directly accountable,” he said.
And the committee’s chairman – Rep. Randy Frye, R-Greensburg – said there’s nothing in the bill that ensures the money goes to programs to that will help reduce the crime rate. He said the language is too vague.
“It’s just an open door,” he said. “I have concerns about that.”
But Frizzell said the program is meant to be a pilot, which will allow the state to try it out and see what works.
The bill doesn’t include money for the grants but Frizzell said he’s confident it will be included in the budget before the session ends later this month. He said it will only be enough to serve the three counties named in the bill.
“The study needs to be small enough to be manageable and see the success rate,” he said.
Frye said he hoped the bill’s supporters would keep working on the language to satisfy members’ concerns so the legislation can pass the committee before a deadline Thursday.
Lesley Weidenbener is executive editor of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.