The HCLA class of 2024 attended the first half of the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Class Day on the campus of the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Department (HCSD). To say that this was a unique experience is an understatement. Chief Deputy John Lowes provided us with an overview of the duties and responsibilities of HCSD. This includes both their civilian and sworn personnel. Unless you are familiar with law enforcement or interact with it as part of your career, most don’t realize how much the HCSD is responsible for and what functions they perform. Typically, the thought is they patrol the “rural” areas of the county and maintain the jail. But they are responsible for so much more.
To familiarize ourselves with the facility, we were given the opportunity for a tour of Hamilton County. To some in our class this experience was just another day at the office or not a new experience because they have worked in criminal justice. However, if you had never been inside of a secure jail facility before, this experience can be quite unnerving, as many expressed.
An additional highlight of the morning session was the ability to listen to and ask questions of Indiana State Police Superintendent Doug Carter. Superintendent Carter spoke candidly with our class about his experiences in law enforcement over the past 40 years and his views on policing. He is very aware of the negative perception of law enforcement currently and throughout our recent history. I appreciated his openness and talking about the fentanyl crisis in not only our state but the country as well as his views on policing. While my views and the Superintendent’s views vary on topics, you can tell that he is a man with passion, respect, and a love for the profession.
Before concluding for the morning, we were met with a wonderful surprise from the Noblesville Police Department (NPD). Our final speaker of the morning was Sergeant Ben Lugar who runs the NobleAct program at NPD. Sergeant Lugar brought in K9 Luna to tell us about her and her counterparts who are used in the field to help those experiencing mental health crisis. During the discussion on Luna’s 400+ formal deployments and speaking about her job, Luna walked around the room and ensured that she had a formal hello for all of us as well as got her fill of belly scratches. Luna’s job at NPD accounts for 47% of K9 deployments for the department. Her deployments in times of crisis help deescalate situations and help keep all on scene safe, officers and civilians.
For the second half of the day, our class was at the Hamilton County Government & Judicial Center in downtown Noblesville. We were able to tour the courthouse and the secure holding site for detainees, as well as walk through the tunnel that connects the old courthouse to the new courthouse. Staff Attorney Sarah Shields provided us with an overview of the court system in Hamilton County as well as facilitated a Q&A with Deputy Prosecutor Josh Kocher and Magistrate Drew Bloch. To hear a judge and prosecutor talk about why they do what they do, why they continue to do what they do, and why they loved their jobs was refreshing, especially understanding the cases that come across their desks and have to prosecute or preside over. One important takeaway from the Q&A is that we shouldn’t just shrug off the election of judges and just “pick one” on the ballot. Citizens may equate judges to only prosecuting criminal acts, but they do so much more. Judges are responsible not just for hearing criminal cases but also paternity, divorce, small claims, insurance disputes, civil, and tort cases.
Our last speaker of the day was Executive Director Michael Hubbs of Hamilton County Public Safety Communication (HCPSC). Hubbs is responsible for the consolidated communications center in Hamilton County. This center is where all the 9-1-1 and non-emergency calls for the entire county are received. The center is also responsible for communicating, dispatching, and keeping safe Hamilton County’s first responders. These “first” first responders are where help in the county typically starts and work with both the public and public safety officials to ensure as safe an outcome to a situation as possible. HCPSC personnel are on the phone and relaying information to responders to keep them safe as well as providing instructions to aid citizens in a crisis. This profession in public safety is often overlooked or forgotten, but their role is crucial to providing help to both citizens and public safety alike.
The last part of our day is always the most educational because as a class we get to reflect on the day, our thoughts, and get to hear the thoughts of others. I have a unique perspective on this topic area in that I worked in the public safety profession for almost fifteen years before transitioning to my current role. As a former police officer, crime scene technician, and 9-1-1 dispatcher it is hard for me to decouple me as a “public safety professional” from the views that others have on law enforcement in general. In listening to our class reflection, it is important to note that not all people have the trust and confidence that I have in law enforcement. Are they wrong? Is their trust misplaced? ABSOLUTELY NOT. Just as my experience is different so is theirs. To hear members of the class speak about distrust, fear, and worry was heartbreaking for me and I am sure it would be to many others. We must continue to have discussions on how to move it forward, how to bring trust not just to our community and its officers but to the profession. Those discussions involve police, fire, the community, and leaders like the members of HCLA Class of 2024.