A controversial law in Indiana has given rise to worry that suspects may believe they can have what one official has called "open season on police officers."
Gov. Mitch Daniels signed Senate Enrolled Act 1 (SEA 1), titled "Right to defend against unlawful entry," in March, which says residents can use deadly force against "unlawful intrusion" by a public servant to protect themselves and their property.
However, the new law is facing backlash from law enforcement officials who are worried about their safety.
Tim Downs, president of Indiana State Fraternal Order of Police, is particularly worried about intoxicated suspects who may not be able to decipher when police are acting legally and proceed to attack officers because of the new law.
Downs has voiced his concerns to Daniels before the passing of the law. He told Bloomberg Businessweek that there is no need to prevent a nonexistent wave of rogue police officers running rampant in Indiana.
"It's just a recipe for disaster," said Downs, who is also chief of the Lake County police. "It just puts a bounty on our heads."
Daniels said he signed SEA 1 in order to strengthen the protection of Indiana law enforcement officers by "narrowing the situations in which a person would be justified in using force against them." The law, backed by the National Rifle Association -- a powerful pro-gun lobby often associated with conservative causes -- does clarify that a person must reasonably believe the law enforcement officer is acting unlawfully. It also states that the force used by an individual must be reasonably necessary to avoid serious bodily injury.
The law is an amendment to a 2006 bill based on the so-called "Castle Doctrine," which allows the use of deadly force to stop illegal entry into a home or car.
The words "public servant" were added for clarification purposes following a state Supreme Court ruling last year in a case in which a man was charged with assaulting an officer during a domestic violence call. The court said "there is no right to reasonably resist unlawful entry by police officers."
The NRA had argued for the amendment, saying that residents need to be protected from officers who abuse the law by entering into their private space.
In a March 12 letter, Downs asked Daniels to veto the bill.
"[The bill] threatens to make it open season on public officer," Downs' letter read. "It allows untrained citizens to subjectively judge the circumstances and determine whether or not an officer's presence on or entry upon or into their property or home is lawful. This subjective decision is to be made at a time when often emotions are highly charged and drugs and/or alcohol are often involved."
With officers being called daily to intervene in domestic disturbances and other serious matters, Downs said their duty calls for them to enter private property and residences to protect innocent people. At times, the circumstances call for officers make entry without a warrant, he told the governor.
"It will lead to victims waiting for help to arrive, police officers being forcibly denied entry and needless altercations between police and citizens," Down wrote. "It will lead to senseless loss of life [for] police and citizens alike."
After the bill was signed, Daniels issued a press release reminding that unless a person is convinced an officer is acting unlawfully, then he or she cannot use force of any kind.
"In the real world, there will almost never be a situation in which these extremely narrow conditions are met," he said. "So as a matter of law, law enforcement officers will be better protected than before, not less so. What is troubling to law enforcement officers, and to me, is the chance that citizens (...) will misunderstand what the law says."
Misunderstanding the law is troubling indeed. The Association of Prosecuting Attorneys in Washington has told the media that Indiana is the first U.S. state to specifically allow the use of force against officers.
"The Supreme Court of Indiana in Barnes v. State, the case that spurred the passage of this law, stated that there are other ways to redress unlawful force or entry of police and resisting arrest unnecessarily escalates the situation, and it would not promote safety to require police to get a warrant or wait for imminent violence to intervene into a situation," Steven Jansen, vice president of The Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, told the IBTimes.
Still, the top brass isn't taking any chances with the lives of his men.
On March 30, Downs issued an advisory to all members of the law enforcement community, notifying that all reported incidents of injury because of the new law will be monitored. Such incidents, wrote the president of the Indiana State Fraternal Order of Police, include any threats, altercations and injuries, whether by civilians or uniformed personnel.
"You must continue to exercise extreme caution in the performance of your duties, especially when entering upon another's property or making entry into a dwelling," Downs warned. "If time and circumstances allow, get a warrant. Stay safe."
Indiana police Sgt. Joseph Hubbard, who spoke to Bloomberg Businessweek last week, said there's a fear that suspects can break the law and harm officers.
"If I pull over a car and I walk up to it and the guy shoots me, he's going to say, 'Well, he was trying to illegally enter my property,'" Hubbard said.
"Somebody is going get away with killing a cop because of this law," the 17-year veteran added.
Read the full text of the bill.