By Marek Mazurek | South Bend Tribune
Jan. 14, 2020
SOUTH BEND — Mayor James Mueller is asking the city’s Board of Public Safety to table the proposed “discipline matrix” for police officers, saying more time should be allowed for public input.
The mayor’s decision came two days before the board was scheduled to vote on the proposal and on the same day a group of faith leaders expressed their support for the disciplinary rubric.
“Mayor Mueller will push to establish disciplinary guidelines as envisioned in his plan for reforming public safety,” Kacey Gergely, a spokeswoman for the mayor, said in a statement to the Tribune. “He believes the process was rushed last year and will ask the Board of Public Safety on Wednesday to table the proposal to allow for more community and stakeholder input. It’s important that we all work together to get this right for our community.”
Asked in an email if Mueller would talk further about the matter, Gergely didn’t immediately respond.
The proposed matrix is a chart that categorizes potential violations and assigns each category a range of penalties for first, second and third offenses. South Bend city officials introduced the matrix Dec. 18 and asked the public to email input to the safety board by Jan. 10 ahead of this Wednesday’s meeting.
Opinions vary on whether the disciplinary guidelines would help mend the mistrust some community members feel toward the police.
On Monday afternoon, leaders of the activist group Faith in Indiana held a press conference in the lobby of the County-City Building to voice their support for the discipline matrix, calling it “clear, consistent and fair.”
In light of Mueller’s statement, Robert Smith, a leader with Faith in Indiana, said the group hopes to meet with the mayor in the coming days to find out what his objections are.
Smith said Mueller did not express concern about the process when he met with the faith group before Christmas, and added that confusion over the matrix could have caused the mayor to delay the vote.
“That’s the problem we ran into, people didn’t understand what the matrix was,” Smith said.
Other groups, however, were happy to hear about Mueller’s decision to pump the brakes on the disciplinary matrix.
“We feel there needs to be more public discussion around it,” said Jorden Giger, a leader of Black Lives Matter in South Bend. “Citizens need to have more time to review what the matrix is and what its impact might or might not be.”
Black Lives Matter emailed a list of concerns about the proposal to the Board of Public Safety and the Tribune on Monday. The group’s main concerns involve the punishment guidelines for certain infractions.
Giger has pointed to one item, an arrest without probable cause, which could draw as little as a 12-day suspension, and racial harassment, which would come with a minimum 30-day suspension, as violations where harsher punishment may be warranted.
The group also has concerns about the authority of the police chief in handing out discipline. The matrix does allow for “aggravating” and “mitigating” factors to be considered by the police chief and Board of Public Safety when considering disciplinary action.
Sgt. Harvey Mills, president of the South Bend Fraternal Order of Police, has said the union supports the discipline matrix, but felt city officials were pushing to implement the changes too quickly.
The matrix has six categories of possible misconduct, labeled A-F, ranging from minor infractions to serious misconduct.
Infractions like uniform violations call for an oral reprimand on first offense. More severe misconduct, such as the loss of evidence 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 of misconduct, which includes preventable fatal crashes and “abuse/misuse of authority,” calls for automatic firing.