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Prosecutor oversight task force holds lone meeting, issues no recommendations

A state task force – charged with exploring what to do if a local prosecutor refuses to enforce certain laws – held its first and only meeting Thursday.

The panel talked for about an hour, heard no testimony and issued no recommendations.

Task force co-chair Sen. Aaron Freeman (R-Indianapolis) called the meeting a “necessary first step” to starting a conversation.

"There's going to be bills," Freeman said. "There will be things in the General Assembly next year about it."

The other co-chair, Rep. Chris Jeter (R-Fishers), echoed that view.

“Look, at the end of the day, the legislature makes laws and those laws have to be enforced," Jeter said. "And if they’re not, then people don’t have redress. And I think that’s an important issue.”

The conversation has actually been happening for a few years, primarily aimed at Marion County Prosecutor Ryan Mears. Mears doesn’t direct resources to prosecuting simple marijuana possession cases and, this summer, said he wouldn’t prosecute health providers who perform abortions.

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Rep. Matt Pierce (D-Bloomington) said the task force is just furthering a political agenda.

“Right now, there’s a political attempt to really drive this narrative that crime is out of control and it’s a result of Democratic policies,” Pierce said.

That was a major narrative in this year's Marion County prosecutor race, a race Mears, a Democrat, won by about 20 percentage points.

Also, FBI data shows that total property crimes and total violent crimes reported by Indianapolis police have decreased each of the last five years.

READ MORE: Senate bill that would allow state AG to intervene at county level dies

Jeter and Freeman said this issue isn't just about Mears. It's about stories they hear from other states, where they claim prosecutors aren't charging people for low-level offenses that include theft (as long as it's under a certain dollar amount).

"I just don't think that's the type of activity that folks, generally, in this state want in any city," Jeter said.

Sen. Greg Taylor (D-Indianapolis) said stories about things that might be happening elsewhere aren't a good reason to pass laws in Indiana.

"We have to be more pragmatic about what we're talking about," Taylor said.

In past years, legislation to override local prosecutors has advanced in the Senate but not gotten anywhere in the House.

Contact reporter Brandon at bsmith@ipbs.org or follow him on Twitter at @brandonjsmith5.

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