Caption: The Rev. Claval Hunter, a member of Faith in Indiana, speaks Thursday at Berean Seventh Day Adventist Church in South Bend during a press conference urging a stricter policy on the use of force by South bend police officers. (Tribune Photo/CHRISTIAN SHECKLER)
By Christian Sheckler | South Bend Tribune
Feb. 11, 2021
SOUTH BEND — Members of the group Faith in Indiana on Thursday called for clearer restrictions on police use of force, urging the South Bend Board of Public Safety to reject a draft policy next week and send it back to Mayor James Mueller to be strengthened.
Mueller’s administration has been working for the past year on a revised use-of-force policy for the South Bend Police Department, but Faith in Indiana, which frequently lobbies for police reform, has said the proposed rules don’t go far enough.
The Board of Public Safety is set to consider approving the policy Wednesday.
“We want a clear and high standard for the use of force,” Alfred Guillaume, a member of Faith in Indiana and St. Augustine Catholic Church, said during a news conference Thursday. “Currently, the policy is unclear.”
Members of the group Thursday said they want the policy to more clearly state circumstances in which South Bend police officers can and cannot use force, and to add hard-and-fast bans on some uses of force, such as shooting a fleeing person.
Rev. Terri Bays, of Holy Trinity Episcopal Church, said the policy should state officers can use force only when there is “clear evidence” a person is a threat, not just when an officer believes them to be.
In an interview, Mueller said he would like for the Board of Public Safety to approve the proposed version of the policy Wednesday, adding the city could still continue to look into improvements.
“I think this policy fits within our legal constraints but offers a high threshold and much of what the community is seeking,” Mueller said, “in that all use of force in this policy is required to be necessary and proportional to the threat encountered.”
Mueller said the policy would allow the use of deadly force only as a last resort and when necessary to protect innocent life.
Bays said the policy should also include requirements that the city provide data on uses of force, including demographic information on those involved in use-of-force incidents.
Pastor Claval Hunter, of Berean Seventh-day Adventist Church, said the group is asking Mueller for a meeting to discuss their concerns with the policy.
Mueller said he and his staff are working on responding to a letter he recently received from Faith in Indiana, raising many of the points the group outlined at the Thursday press conference. He said he would also be open to meeting with members of the group.
The mayor said it’s possible some of the group’s demands, such as a more detailed use-of-force “continuum” that lays out scenarios in which certain types of force are permitted, could be added to the policy, but would require more time and research.
At the same time, Mueller has argued the city cannot craft a policy that deviates from the legal standard used in court to determine whether an officer’s use of force was appropriate.
In the case Graham v. Connor, the U.S. Supreme Court held an officer’s use of force must be considered under the standard of “objective reasonableness.”
The Graham v. Connor test asks whether a hypothetical reasonable officer in the same situation, without the benefit of hindsight, would have considered the use of force to be appropriate. If an officer’s use of force was “objectively reasonable,” the officer cannot be held liable in court.
While Mueller’s administration does not see Graham v. Connor as a legal “floor,” some national organizations have advocated for policies that go beyond the precedent’s requirements.
The Camden, N.J., police department updated its use of force policy in 2019, saying the department, “aspires to go beyond Graham and its minimum requirements.”
The Police Executive Research Forum, a nonprofit group focused on policing and criminal justice research, wrote in 2016 that the Graham v. Connor ruling does not provide departments sufficient guidance on creating use of force policies and urged law enforcement agencies to set regulations that deem certain use of force situations to be in violation of department policy even if they would be legally permissible.