INDIANAPOLIS – The Indiana Law Enforcement Training Board is considering mandating the COVID-19 vaccine for trainees after a recent outbreak halted the latest recruit class at the academy.
Indiana State Police Superintendent Doug Carter said the Indiana Law Enforcement Academy handled the outbreak the best it could – sending 117 recruits home and transitioning to virtual instruction. But, he asked, what about the next one?
Carter characterized it as a nuclear option but said the academy is a congregate living environment and the board has to make a decision. He expects half the state's sheriffs and police chiefs will approve and half will oppose the move.
Moments after the board met, Gov. Eric Holcomb – attending a separate event at the academy – said, “No, we're not going to mandate the vaccine, we do encourage it. Obviously I try to lead by example, I will go as so far as to say the only thing to fear about the vaccine is fear itself.”
Tim Horty, executive director of the academy, gave a full report on the outbreak during the earlier meeting.
He said the weekend before the class was suspended, multiple individuals were sick and sent home. After consulting with Carter and State Health Commissioner Dr. Kris Box on Sunday, July 25, they moved forward with testing the whole class that Monday.
The results came back late Tuesday night – 10 positives and nine inconclusive. Horty said ultimately more than 50 were isolated or quarantined.
But a few “were not too happy with me personally,” Horty said, and took their clothes and left after 11 p.m. He said two looked him dead in the eye and said they weren't going to discuss their medical history.
“That's unconscionable,” Carter said, while another board member called it insubordination.
The recruits will return to the facility Monday. The academy will test everyone coming in, increase sterilization efforts, check temperatures, try to pair roommates on physical drills, wear masks in common areas and divide classes. The students will also be given dinner in the evening so they don't leave and no visitors are allowed.
But Horty said COVID-19 cases are on the rise and “I can't keep them here and rolling without the vaccine. We have to train them at some point. We need to get them back into their community.”
He said, for instance, if an outbreak causes some to miss a necessary course it could delay training by months.
Dr. Ronald Leach of Brazil said “the real data says natural immunity is much better than any of the so-called vaccines; it is longer lasting and better against variants.”
Leach – a member of the board – said he is a pro-vaxer “but at the same token, to be perfectly honest, the three options we currently have are not true vaccines. They work totally different. They are very unique and modern and we don't know what the true long-term side effects are.”
Another member suggested allowing a positive antibody test as an option as well.
Ligonier Police Chief Bryan Shearer – also a board member – said “I hate the mandate part but I don't know how we continue without it.”
Greenwood Mayor Mark Myers said, “I'm all for requiring vaccines” but questioned doing so for recruits and not employees and trainers who are also in the same buildings.
Academy Attorney Tim Cain said he believes the board has clear authority to require it for cadets but the path for employees would require more research.
If a vaccine mandate is put in place, the academy will have a hard time enforcing it because of a law legislators passed in April. It bans state and local units from requiring proof of immunization. But they could ask for voluntary submissions and require those who don't to be tested regularly.
Horty said it's too late to mandate vaccines for the current class but not for the next one. Those recruits start with four weeks of online instruction and then come for in-person training the end of September.
The board decided to wait for now – in hopes the federal government approves the vaccines on a permanent basis instead of emergency use only.
Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department Chief Randal Taylor said his agency is requiring recruits to be vaccinated. Others at the meeting representing academies in northwest Indiana and Fort Wayne said they are not but neither of those involve congregate living.
Holcomb signs police reform measure
Gov. Eric Holcomb – surrounded by more than 30 state legislators and dozens of other stakeholders – ceremoniously signed a police reform bill Monday.
The event was at the Indiana Law Enforcement Academy, which will see a $70 million renovation as part of the effort to support law enforcement. House Bill 1006 also establishes further procedures for decertifying officers; creates an employee record-sharing process between law enforcement agencies; requires deescalation training and limits chokeholds.
“There were many that said it couldn't be done but we proved here in the state of Indiana that we can take on tall challenges and emerge on the other side in a much better position,” Holcomb said.
Indiana State Police Superintendent Doug Carter said the profession is at a crossroads and has to look at training differently. The renovation will allow for more scenario training instead of just classroom instruction.
Rep. Robin Sackleford, D-Indianapolis, said, “For years police brutality and harassment have plagued Indiana's Black and brown communities and 1006 is a way to say no more.”