Caption: Deacon Mel Tardy, of St. Augustine Parish, leads a prayer session Thursday outside the County-City Building in South Bend. Tribune Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN
By Marek Mazurek | South Bend Tribune
June 11, 2020
SOUTH BEND — Local faith leaders met with South Bend Mayor James Mueller on Thursday, urging the mayor to “act boldly” on a number of items related to police reform, including a discipline matrix for police misconduct.
During and after the meeting, members of the group said they were disappointed by Mueller’s lack of immediate action on the matrix, as well as de-escalation training for officers and revisions to the department’s use of force policy.
“You are the chief executive officer; don’t wait for a horrific event to put South Bend front and center in the national news,” Pastor Claval Hunter of Berean Seventh Day Adventist Church said to Mueller in the meeting.
While a number of leaders with the St. Joseph County chapter of Faith in Indiana, which is composed of religious leaders and community activists across the state, met with Mueller online, a few dozen people gathered outside the County-City Building to pray for reform and an end to systemic racism.
In response to frustrations from the group about the city’s delay in implementing the discipline matrix, Mueller said his goal is to release a draft of the matrix in the “coming days” and to have the matrix passed at the July 15 Board of Public Safety meeting.
“I understand the frustration and I also share the frustration, not just on the matrix, but also that we haven’t been able to get the broader public safety reform plan out yet,” Mueller said. “But again, that’s coming soon.”
Some faith leaders remained skeptical, saying the mayor’s previous promises of action on the issue have fallen by the wayside.
“It’s something that’s been in the works for a long time; we keep getting pushed off as far as dates,” said Pastor Keith Witherspoon of Bethlehem Missionary Baptist Church.
Faith in Indiana’s meeting with Mueller comes as protests and calls for police reform have spread across the country after the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others at the hands of police.
In South Bend, the Common Council recently tabled a bill — supported by Mueller — that would increase the pay of South Bend police officers by 2.5% after protesters organized rallies against the proposal. A bill that would establish a civilian review board for the police department is also working its way through the legislative process.
The city is also expected to announce in the near future the findings of an outside consulting report on the police department.
The matrix is a document that has six categories of possible police misconduct, labeled A-F, and corresponding disciplinary action for each infraction.
“It is a document or policy of accountability,” Witherspoon said. “For far too long in criminal justice systems all over the country, this lack of a discipline matrix has led to no accountability.”
The matrix was first introduced by the Pete Buttigieg administration in late 2019. Mueller asked the Board of Public Safety to table discussion on the matrix in January, saying more time was needed for community feedback.
In early February the city hosted a community meeting to gather public input on the matrix. At the conclusion of the meeting, Mueller told attendees he hoped to put out a revised draft within the next “month or two.”
Outside the County-City Building on Thursday, those gathered said officers should be fired for engaging in racist or abusive behavior. In the current draft of the matrix, “racial or ethnic harassment/discrimination” is punishable by a 30-day suspension on first offense, while “abuse/misuse of authority” would result in an automatic termination.
Faith leaders also petitioned Mueller to review the South Bend Police Department’s use of force policy and implement de-escalation training for officers. Mueller said he plans to address both items and said delays in implementing public safety reforms are partly due to the coronavirus pandemic in addition to his desire to ensure any reforms are long-lasting.
“Sustainable change involves getting more and more people on board, as many people as possible, and building that broader coalition,” Mueller said. “I understand people may have different views on how you achieve change, but my view is you bring as many people together as possible and you get as good of a consensus as possible and you move forward.”
Witherspoon and Pastor J.B. Williams said they generally support more resources for violence prevention initiatives and social workers, but Faith in Indiana does not have a stance on the proposed police pay increase.