By Marek Mazurek | South Bend Tribune
May 19, 2021
SOUTH BEND — Recently proposed changes to the South Bend Police Department’s use of force policy include new language surrounding the use of deadly force.
The use of force policy was passed in February. Some Board of Public Safety and community members, however, have pushed for revisions to the policy since its adoption.
Over the past couple months, representatives from the mayor’s office, the police department and the group Faith in Indiana have worked on a series of updates, which were submitted to the Board of Public Safety at last month’s and Wednesday’s meetings.
Language surrounding deadly force has been a concern of Faith in Indiana’s throughout the process of implementing the use of force policy. The proposed changes in that section of the policy add, among other things, that deadly force “may only be used as a last resort” and when it does not endanger innocent people.
Alfred Guillaume Jr., a member of Faith in Indiana, said the group supports most of the proposed changes, especially concerning the use of deadly force.
“The proposed policy is a significant improvement over what we had before,” Guillaume said during Wednesday’s board meeting.
South Bend Police Chief Scott Ruszkowski called all of the changes to the policy’s language a strong step forward.
“After a careful balance of all interests, we were able to come up with what we feel is almost spot-on,” Ruszkowski said.
The proposed changes add definitions and further clarify certain items in the existing policy.
For example, the latest draft of the document now defines “feasible” and “imminent threat.”
The previous policy listed the word imminent as “ready to take place; impending,” however the proposed revision adds imminent threat to mean, in part, “an officer’s objectively reasonable assessment of impending risk of death or serious injury to the officer or another person from any action or outcome that may occur during an encounter.”
Changes to the definition of “proportionality” also clarify the appropriate amount of force for officers to use is the “minimum amount of force” necessary.
Other changes include specific wording, such as changing the word “pointing” to “aiming” regarding firearms.
The board did not vote on the revisions at Wednesday’s meeting, with board members wanting time to review the changes.
“What I’m most appreciative of is … all the parties coming together to try to get the best out of this policy,” Board of Public Safety President Luther Taylor said. “No one wants to see this move forward any more than I do.”
Ruszkowski explained that once the new policy is adopted, officers will be able to see the changes and compare the new policy to the previous one in the department’s software.