By the Rev. Terri Bays and Alfred J. Guillaume Jr. | South Bend Tribune
Feb 16, 2021
As faith leaders in South Bend who represent a broad cross section of our community, we thank the mayor and his staff for their hard work in crafting a use-of-force policy for our local police. A robust use-of-force policy serves the entire community by allowing citizens and the police force to interact with confidence, secure in their mutual understanding of where and how force may legitimately be used. The mayor’s office has listened to community input, much of which has helped to shape the draft currently in the hands of the Board of Public Safety.
Nevertheless, the current draft falls short of the mark. that does not provide:
- A clear and high threshold for the use of deadly force
- A duty to intervene and report excessive uses of force
- Data collection and public reporting guidelines for use-of-force incidents
Without a clear and high threshold for the use of deadly force, the current draft leaves too much to subjective decision-making, both by the officers at the scene and supervisors after the fact. We believe the police and the community need clearer guidelines. We have proposed the following language:
Use of deadly force is prohibited, except in extreme cases and as a last resort in the following circumstances: to protect against an imminent threat of death or serious bodily injury to the officer or another person due to subject possessing a deadly weapon who is threatening to use or actively using it. An officer is justified in firing a firearm at another person only to defend against an imminent threat of death, great bodily injury or serious bodily injury to the officer or another person.
Language like this eases anxiety about decisions in what are all too often a life-or-death situation. Without a clear and high threshold, the current draft leaves citizens vulnerable to severe injury or even death.
A clearly stated duty to intervene and report excessive uses of force works in the interest of decent officers otherwise caught between police solidarity and their duty to integrity. Officers know that they cannot expect fellow citizens to report suspicious behavior in their neighborhoods or serve as witnesses in a court of law if officers do not call upon one another to intervene and report abuses their fellow officers commit against the citizens whom they serve. The current draft does support officers holding each other accountable.
Nevertheless, the current draft squanders at least half its potential positive effect on the relationship between the police and a public that has no way of knowing that the policy is being enforced. In the interests of both police and the public they have pledged to protect and serve, it is good policy to gather data consistently and accurately as to when, how and against whom force is being used. By writing into the policy a requirement for data collection and reporting to the public, the mayor and chief of police have the opportunity to assure the public of police accountability.
Because of these and other deficiencies, we call upon the Board of Public Safety to return the current draft to the mayor’s office for revision. Faith in Indiana has consulted with various police departments across the country, with the 21st Century Policing Solutions report that the city commissioned and with other leaders in the field. We remain available to the mayor and the Board of Public Safety for further consultation.
The Rev. Terri Bays and Alfred J. Guillaume Jr. are members of Faith in Indiana of St. Joseph County.