INDIANAPOLIS — A bill in the Indiana Senate aims to increase accountability by imposing new limits on reserve police officers and new requirements on cities and towns that have them.

The original language of Senate Bill 159 would have imposed specific limits on the number of reserve officers a police department can appoint starting next year.  

“After June 30, 2023, the number of police reserve officers that a law enforcement agency or department for a city or town may appoint may not exceed the greater of: (1) six police reserve officers; or (2) 40% of the number of law enforcement officers employed by the law enforcement agency,” the bill stated.

That quickly drew the attention of small departments that rely heavily on reserve officers when the bill was filed last week.

“When that language came out, it really kind of grabbed us,” said Southport Police Chief Tom Vaughn.  “We were like wait a minute, we’re losing police officers when we actually need more police officers at this point.”

“That cap wasn’t going to be realistic for my agency,” said Edinburgh Police Chief Doyne Little.

This week, however, the bill’s author, Indianapolis Republican Senator Jack Sandlin, said that language will likely be amended. Instead, the bill will require cities and towns to adopt an ordinance that specifically states how many reserve officers their police department can have. The total would be left up to each city or town, but it would also be numbers the state could keep track of.

While many cities and towns already have local ordinances in place to regulate reserve officers, the bill would make it a requirement.

“We have agencies that are appointing reserve officers and maybe their city council or town boards may not know the number of officers they have,” Sandlin said.

In addition, the bill would put limits on reserve officers working with police powers outside their home department.

“After June 30, 2022, a police reserve officer appointed by a law enforcement agency or department for a city or town does not have police powers for purposes of employment outside the direct supervision of the law enforcement agency or department that appointed the police reserve officer,” the bill states.

Exceptions to that provision would include:

“(1) The police reserve officer who previously served as a law enforcement officer has completed Tier I or Tier II basic training and remains compliant with inservice training requirements; or (2) an exigent circumstance exists that creates pressing health, safety, or law enforcement needs for the police reserve officer.”

That part of the bill remains a sticking point for some police officials.

Chief Vaughn said many of his reserve officers often work part-time at Colts games, Pacers games, area hospitals and Perry Township Schools.  He believes taking away the opportunity to earn extra part-time income will make the job of a reserve officer less appealing.

“I think if you come in and say they can’t work outside your city, that is going to hurt our numbers,” Vaughn said. “We’re going to get less people apply for the reserve program.”

“It’s a rough position to fill as it is,” Chief Little said.  “You start taking away any potential benefits from it, it’s going to be even worse.”

Sandlin, who had his own career in law enforcement, said he’s open to more discussion. However, he also believes reserve officers are meant to be volunteers who serve their home community.

“We have some reserve officers that, in some venues, have turned reserve status into almost a full-time job where they travel up and down the state, really unsupervised and mostly unaccounted for where they’re working part-time employment,” he said.

Sandlin said further amendments are possible, including potentially allowing reserve officers to continue working in schools. Senate Bill 159 is currently assigned to the Senate Local Government Committee. It is not yet scheduled for a hearing.