Photo caption: Members of the group Faith in Indiana pray outside the County-City Building Wednesday morning before the Board of Public Safety voted to pass the police discipline matrix. (Tribune Photo/MAREK MAZUREK)
By Marek Mazurek | South Bend Tribune
Jul 15, 2020
SOUTH BEND — After months of debate and revisions, the Board of Public Safety on Wednesday approved new discipline guidelines for South Bend police officers.
Mayor James Mueller, the Fraternal Order of Police and some community groups have supported the matrix — a chart that categorizes potential officer violations and lists a range of penalties for first, second and third offenses — citing a need for clearly defined discipline for officers.
Others, such as the South Bend chapter of Black Lives Matter, wanted more time to review updates to the discipline matrix before the board made its decision.
“I think this is just a great step forward for our community to hold our police accountable and provide more transparency,” Board of Public Safety member Melissa Colpitts said after Wednesday’s vote.
Before the vote, members of the group Faith in Indiana held a press conference outside the County-City building to express support for the new guidelines.
“This is a modest but critical step in honest policing,” said Robert Smith, president of the Martin Luther King Jr. Senior Men’s Club. “It will serve the community and the police well.”
Faith in Indiana had pushed for the matrix since January and publicly criticized Mueller last month for a lack of action on the issue.
“This is an important step in the ongoing process of reforming our public safety systems. The additional public feedback over the past several months improved the matrix and helped us find the right balance for our community and officers,” Mueller said in a written statement Wednesday.
South Bend Police Chief Scott Ruszkowski said the discipline matrix will be a “living document” that can be modified as needed.
“The adoption of this gives not only guidance but foundation and expectations of not just officers, administration and the mayor’s office, but to our community,” Ruszkowski said.
The new guidelines come as the city tries to address several issues related to policing and police accountability. An ordinance that would establish a citizen review board is being debated by the Common Council, as is a bill that would give a mid-year pay increase to South Bend police officers.
The council tabled discussion on the pay increase in early June but is scheduled to hold a committee meeting tonight to discuss the bill.
Also, the consulting firm 21st Century Policing recently presented the findings of its audit of the South Bend Police Department. The report recommends the department seek better policies, training and reporting on the use of force, among dozens of other suggestions.
The report also recommended that the city adopt a discipline matrix for its police department.
“Overall the concept of the discipline matrix is a step in the right direction for the officers and the community,” FOP vice president Joshua Morgan said in a statement. “As with everything, we believe there is still room for improvement. The FOP looks forward to sitting down with the city administration and working out some of the more finer details to improve the discipline matrix.”
Under the new discipline guidelines, infractions such as uniform violations will result in an oral reprimand for a first offense. More severe misconduct, such as accidentally firing a weapon or consuming alcohol on duty, would result in a three-day suspension on first offense, and a 10-day suspension on third offense.
The most severe category, which includes the improper use of force resulting in serious injury, discrimination and “abuse/misuse of authority,” would result in automatic firing.