By Jeff Parrott | South Bend Tribune
Oct 11, 2019
SOUTH BEND — Mayor Pete Buttigieg expects to receive a consultant’s assessment of police practices and operations before he leaves office at year’s end, and he’ll ask the city’s Board of Public Works to approve a contract for the review at its Oct. 22 meeting.
The Common Council in August granted the administration’s request to appropriate $180,000 for the analysis by Chicago-based 21CP Solutions, about two months after Sgt. Ryan O’Neill, who is white, fatally shot black theft suspect Eric Logan in a downtown parking lot, heightening tensions between police and the black community.
21CP Solutions is led by Charles Ramsey, a black former Philadelphia police commissioner who co-chaired a national task force formed by former President Barack Obama to make recommendations to police departments on improving their community relations. Obama convened the group in response to protests following high-profile police killings of several unarmed black men.
21CP will evaluate the department’s policies and practices on use of force, body-worn cameras, bias-informed policing, accountability, and community engagement and participation, according to an email Buttigieg Chief of Staff Laura O’Sullivan recently sent council members.
“We’ve also asked them to take a look at police officer well-being, de-escalation practices and policies, recruitment and retention of officers of color, as well as assistance in developing the narrative around the wonderful efforts of the South Bend Police Department,” O’Sullivan wrote.
Buttigieg administration spokesman Mark Bode said Sullivan was not available for comment Thursday because she and city attorney Stephanie Steele were traveling to Tucson, Ariz., to learn more about two “interesting” policing initiatives there. One involves a “progressive discipline” matrix that offers the public more transparency about which levels of police misconduct lead to certain disciplinary actions.
O’Sullivan and Steele also are meeting with the city of Tucson’s legal team and police officials to discuss that department’s “Critical Incident Review Board.” The 13-member board, comprising nine police officers, two city attorneys, an “independent police auditor” and a community member, investigates incidents such as police-involved shootings.
The board focuses on broader issues of policy, training, supervision and needed resources rather than individual officer misconduct in an incident, which remains the responsibility of the department’s Office of Professional Standards, according to the Tucson department’s website.
Bode said the administration learned of both Tucson initiatives from Faith in Indiana members during the city Board of Public Safety’s recent Community Action Group meetings, a set of seven meetings aimed at gathering public input on police policies and procedures following the Logan shooting. He said the administration will consider both the consultant’s assessment and the public input from the CAG meetings in determining whether any changes are needed.
“We’re learning from national leaders in law enforcement, but we also want to be informed by the public,” Bode said. “Between those two things … I think we’ll have a much stronger department per each review, but both of them combined will lead to a much stronger department.”
South Bend isn’t the only area police department seeking an outside review of its police. Following a series of investigative reports by The Tribune and ProPublica documenting police misconduct, the city of Elkhart has hired the nonprofit Police Executive Research Forum, at a cost of $150,000, to study the department’s use of force, disciplinary procedures and culture. That review is ongoing.