By Marek Mazurek | South Bend Tribune
June 19, 2020
Caption: South Bend Police Chief Scott Ruszkowski, right, and South Bend Mayor James Mueller answer questions during a press conference about the release of the police discipline “matrix” on Thursday at Howard Park in South Bend. Tribune Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN
SOUTH BEND — After facing criticism from activists, faith leaders and Common Council members for a lack of action on a disciplinary system called a “matrix” for South Bend police officers, Mayor James Mueller released a revised draft of the document Thursday for public comment.
The proposed matrix is a chart that categorizes potential officer violations, labeled I-VI, and assigns each category a range of penalties for first, second and third offenses.
Infractions like uniform violations call for an oral reprimand on 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 preventable fatal crashes, discrimination toward federally protected minorities and “abuse/misuse of authority,” calls for automatic firing.
“This is a moment where I think this document brings together the community, our officers and the administration …,” Mueller said at a news conference at Howard Park.
The revised draft of the matrix is similar to the original draft released in December.
Many infractions — such as discrimination toward minorities, failure to follow orders in urgent circumstances, false reporting and the failure to turn on body cameras — were moved to more severe categories of discipline than outlined in the previous draft.
The revised draft also includes some additional infractions, like failure of an officer to intercede if he or she witnesses another officer using improper force.
The severity of level IV and V infractions was also increased. In the previous draft, level V offenses, like cheating on a test and obstructing a criminal or internal affairs investigation, would result in a 30-day suspension on first offense, and termination on third offense. In the revised draft, a second offense for such infractions would result in a termination.
“I believe this represents what the community had asked for and what they resoundingly had told us,” Mueller said.
The matrix also allows for the police chief to consider aggravating and mitigating factors in each individual case. An officer’s intent, level of cooperation with the investigation and prior disciplinary record could all factor into the chief’s recommendation for more lenient or severe disciplinary action than what is outlined in the matrix.
Mueller said he hopes the matrix will be passed at the Board of Public Safety meeting on July 15 after receiving more public input in the coming weeks.
“The community is moving forward, the community is making a declarative statement with regard to how we want to create transparency and discipline for our police officers,” said the Rev. Gilbert Washington, after the news conference.
Washington is a leader with Faith in Indiana — a faith group that has urged the city to act more quickly on the matrix since its introduction in December.
Other members of the community feel there is more work to be done.
“I’m fairly disappointed at the moment, it doesn’t seem like there’s any significant changes from the previous draft that has been released,” said Darryl Heller, director of the IUSB Civil Rights Heritage Center.
Heller pointed to the level of discretion given to the chief in deciding aggravating and mitigating factors as potentially problematic.
“I think that’s a slippery part of the matrix because it really depends on the chief,” Heller said. “It takes what was supposed to be an objective matrix and pushes it back into a realm of subjectivity and we should all be at least aware that that’s happening.”
FOP President Harvey Mills said the union welcomes the matrix as a clear account of what discipline officers can expect if they commit a given infraction, though he hopes some infractions are better defined before the document is implemented.
Thursday’s release is the latest development in a process that began last year under the Pete Buttigieg administration.
South Bend city officials introduced the matrix Dec. 18 and originally hoped to vote on the proposal at the January Board of Public Safety meeting. Mueller tabled the topic in late January and the city held a public meeting to discuss the matrix in early February.
At that meeting, Mueller said he hoped to move forward in the next “month or two.” But a lack of action on the proposal, along with national protests surrounding the death of George Floyd, sparked members of the community to call for action more loudly.
Faith in Indiana leaders met with Mueller last week and expressed their displeasure at the delay. On June 12, Democratic members of the Common Council penned a letter that urged Mueller to “end the talk and enact some of the reform measures” to which he had committed.
A link to view and leave feedback on the matrix can be found on the city’s website, southbendin.gov.
On June 8, the Common Council tabled discussion on a bill, introduced by Mueller, that would give South Bend officers a 2.5% pay increase in addition to a higher residency stipend. Following the council’s decision to table the topic, the FOP put out a news release claiming that an internal survey showed nearly 80% of responding officers have considered leaving the department in the last six months.
Download South Bend Police Department Discipline Matrix (PDF)