Community groups frustrated by lack of transparency in South Bend police review board hire

Caption: Joshua Reynolds, new director of the citizen police review board, appears during a press conference Monday inside the County-City Building in South Bend.

By Marek Mazurek | South Bend Tribune
May 24, 2021

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SOUTH BEND — As the new director of the South Bend community police review board prepares to step into his role in the coming weeks, some community groups and a Common Council member say they wished the public would have had more input into his hiring.

Last week, South Bend City Clerk Dawn Jones announced the hiring of Joshua Reynolds, a former police officer who runs an investigative firm in Indianapolis, as director of the newly formed civilian oversight board for the South Bend Police Department.

Reynolds said at a Monday press conference, his goal is to “build greater trust and transparency and safety to the citizens of this city.”

However, members of the South Bend Chapter of Black Lives Matter and the Michiana Alliance Against Racial and Political Oppression say they wanted more public input surrounding the hiring process for the position.

“We really feel like a kind of a slap in the face,” said Paul Mishler, a member of the alliance.

Both Mishler and BLM member Jorden Giger said they were surprised by news of Reynolds’ hiring, as they were under the assumption there would be a public forum for the community to pose questions to candidates. The groups said they would have liked the clerk’s office to send periodic updates on the search process and to provide resumes, with the names redacted, of finalists for the position.

“Through the entire process of getting the ordinance in place, the public was involved,” Giger said. “It’s disappointing; it’s embarrassing for our community.”

When asked about the transparency of Reynolds’ hire, Jones said she understands the community’s concerns, but feels the public has had sufficient input in the process.

“I have spoken with them, some individually as well as as a group and I’m hoping that they understand they have had input in this all along,” Jones said. “They did not participate in the interviews because … we just wanted to make sure it was a fair process for the candidates.”

Jones said council members sat in on many of the interviews with candidates and were able to submit questions. Thirteen candidates were interview for the position out of 40 applications, she said.

Council member Lori Hamann, who was a sponsor of the ordinance creating the review board, said she too was “frustrated” that there was not more community discussion about the hiring of the review board’s director. Hamann had said publicly that there would be some sort of forum where finalists for the job would answer questions from the community, but that did not happen.

However, on Monday, she separated her concerns about the hiring process from Reynolds’ qualifications.

“I think it’s important we identify; the frustration with a lack of transparency is not necessarily frustration with the candidate himself,” she said.

Before becoming a private investigator, Reynolds was a police officer for 14 years, the first four with the Butler University Police Department and the next nearly 10 years with the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department. For most of last year he was an investigator for Carmel-based Lambda Alpha Chi fraternity, where he investigated hazing and abuse allegations. As a contracted private investigator, he has investigated a wide variety of issues, from workers’ compensation and insurance fraud to sexual harassment and rape cases for colleges and other member organizations.

Beyond the hiring process, Mishler and Giger said they’re concerned Reynolds’ prior employment as a police officer jeopardizes the impartiality of the review board.

“She hired a police officer when it was made very clear that the public, at least among those who attended all of the hearings last year, didn’t want a police officer involved,” Giger said.

Others aren’t rushing to judgment quite yet.

Alfred Guillaume Jr., a member of Faith in Indiana, said the group is waiting to see how Reynolds performs in his new role before developing an opinion of him.

“The proof is in the pudding,” Guillaume said. “I hope he does his job judiciously and fairly. The citizen review board is very important for our city.”

Guillaume added he feels Reynolds’ investigative skills should prove to be “helpful” for the board.

In an interview with the Tribune last week, Jones said Reynolds’ investigative and data analysis skills set him apart from other candidates.

The council in October passed an ordinance, sponsored by council members Henry Davis Jr. and Hamann, creating the review board and office, after a summer of unrest nationally following the police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, among others. The council spent months wrangling over details of how the board and office should be structured, such as whether citizen board members or a paid office director should investigate complaints, and the council ultimately placed that authority with the director.

The community police review board will investigate claims of police misconduct. It can make disciplinary recommendations, though the Board of Public Safety is the only body with statutory authority to discipline officers.

Giger said Jones’ decision to hire Reynolds without more input has shaken his faith in the review board and he is worried it will no longer be an outlet for community members to report instances of police abuse.

Hamann believes the situation “can be repaired” and will encourage Reynolds to get out into the community to build the necessary relationships.

At Monday’s press conference, Reynolds said he’s planning to hold meetings in various areas of South Bend in the coming weeks. He will officially begin his position on June 7.

“We’re going to be listening to various community groups and we’re assessing setting up meetings in each district so the community can come out and tell me their concerns,” Reynolds said. “This board is to serve the community and so we want to hear their concerns and their complaints and adjust accordingly.”

Tribune reporter Jeff Parrott contributed to this story.

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