[r63] Making safety a priority

Posted by: Zach Weismiller  | Friday, July 19, 2013

When we think about crime, we tend to be of the mindset that it will always happen somewhere else; never in our neighborhood or to the people that we love. Unfortunately, this is not always true. When something does happen and it is a little too close for comfort, we tend to have a very conventional way of thinking about our safety.

We may want to know things like how many police officers are patrolling the streets? Or, what are the penalties that people will face if they do commit a crime? However, there are many other ways that lawmakers can help keep people safe.

For instance, this past session, we worked in a bipartisan fashion to pass legislation regarding the killing a law enforcement animal (House Enrolled Act (HEA) 1093). When most people think of law enforcement, they tend to think of the officers but not always the service animals that they work with. However, these animals, primarily dogs, undergo extensive training along with their handlers. The cost of a trained police dog is between $8,000 and $10,000.

Indiana law will now require a court to order a person to make restitution upon being convicted of striking, tormenting, injuring or otherwise mistreating a law enforcement animal. If the animal is killed or permanently disabled, restitution will be made to the person or law enforcement agency that owns the animal for reimbursement of replacement costs. A law enforcement agency may also apply to the Violent Crime Victims Compensation Unit to obtain reimbursement for these expenses.

I supported this legislation because of the vital role these service animals play in enforcing our laws, and it should not be the state’s responsibility to foot the bill. In addition, allowing a law enforcement agency to apply to the Violent Crime Victims Compensation Fund in order to obtain reimbursement for such costs will provide those agencies with an opportunity to be reimbursed in a timelier manner, allowing them to replace the animal more quickly. This is important not only to individual agencies or departments but for the general welfare and safety of the communities they serve.

Another unique way that we aimed to keep Hoosiers safe was through the creation of a misdemeanor for anyone who knowingly possesses a cell phone or other wireless/cellular communications device while incarcerated at a prison (HEA 1256). An individual convicted of committing trafficking with an inmate involving any of these devices will be assessed a fine and charged with a Class C felony. 

Now you might be thinking, why is it such a big deal for an inmate to have a cell phone? The answer is that they are often used in ways which put in danger the penal facility, staff as well as outside communities. They can be used for things such as drug trafficking, putting hits on individuals and coordinating escapes. In short, cell phones provide an easy, continuing connection to the inmate’s previous type of lifestyle that led them to be incarcerated to begin with.

While these may not necessarily fit the conventional mold of keeping people safe, technology has changed the way people commit crimes and so, our ideas of how to combat them must change as well. We are constantly looking for new ways to protect Hoosiers and stay on top of, if not in front of, new criminal tendencies. We also wanted to be sure that a community’s security was not being compromised due to one person’s ill-treatment of a service animal. 

I take very seriously the safety of Hoosier citizens, and I will continue to support any diligent approach to combatting crime in our neighborhoods. At the end of the day, safety isn’t solely about crime. It has been proven time and again that in order to be successful in all areas of life, feeling safe is a basic need which must be met first. By helping to ensure a secure environment, we are also promoting the pillars of a stable, productive society.