By Rev. Claval Hunter and Rev. Matt Landry | South Bend Tribune
Sept. 25, 2020
For more than a year, the St. Joseph County chapter of Faith in Indiana and others have been pressing the mayor’s office for a strong use-of-force policy in South Bend that will keep our families safe in their encounters with the police.
In August, the mayor’s office presented a draft policy to the public. It has some important improvements, but at many points was unclear, contradictory and left loopholes that are unacceptable to our community. The community wants a strong policy that is built around the following principles: (1) whenever feasible, officers shall use proven de-escalation techniques, such as clearly communicating with subjects, slowing down encounters, maintaining distance and otherwise reducing the need to use force; (2) use of force shall be proportional to the threat; (3) a threat needs to be immediate to justify lethal force (not imminent or at some possible point in the future); (4) lethal force shall only be used when necessary as a last resort in extreme life-or-death circumstances (not just when deemed “reasonable”).
The following specific measures are essential to a good policy: no strangleholds or chokeholds (or any act that constricts breathing), no shooting at moving vehicles, an officer has a duty to intervene and report excessive use of force. These concerns from our community are echoed in the July report and recommendations from 21CP Solutions, engaged by the city of South Bend to assess and propose concrete steps for more effective and accountable policing.
In order for all of these principles and measures to work, we need appropriate police training. 21CP Solutions noted that officers have recently received training on the “21-foot rule” and other largely discredited approaches. This “rule” is based on a 1983 article which argues that if a suspect with a knife or other weapon is less than 21 feet from an officer then the suspect is a potential threat and the officer may be justified in using deadly force. Though discredited, this approach is still part of the training and culture of many police departments.
We strongly urge the South Bend Police Department to engage the Police Executive Research Forum and other leaders in the field for de-escalation and use-of-force training. We understand the significant role that police play in our community and we believe that additional police training such as procedural justice training and a robust Crisis Intervention Training are vital for community safety.
At the same time, we need to fundamentally reimagine what public safety looks like. As a community we need to invest much more in social services (including mental health, violence prevention, relevant community programming and substance abuse services). We cannot and should not expect armed police officers to be counselors, EMTs and mental health workers.
We affirm the decision to bring the use-of-force policy to the community for input. Mayor James Mueller’s proposed policy addresses some, but not all, of these principles and measures, and is sometimes addressed in an ambiguous way. We urge the mayor and his team to incorporate these concerns of the community in any final policy.
We invite you to join us in suggesting changes to the policy so that, together, we create a policy that reflects the needs and desires of the community. Here are some ways for you to be involved: Email Mayor James Mueller’s office (firstname.lastname@example.org), and reach out to your Common Council representatives (southbendin.gov) to share your desire for the above principles and measures to be included in the use-of-force policy.
We want the Board of Public Safety, the mayor’s office and other city leaders to know that this is important to the community. What is important to the community is important to the faith community, which is why we bring these principles to light. We desire a use-of-force policy that keeps our families and our entire community safe. We want everyone to be able to go home to their families safely at the end of the day.
Rev. Claval Hunter is pastor at Berean Seventh-Day Adventist Church. Rev. Matt Landry is pastor at First United Methodist Church of South Bend. They are leaders of Faith In Indiana, St Joseph County Chapter, as are Rev. Terri Bays of Church of the Holy Trinity, South Bend, and Andre Northern of the Near Northwest Neighborhood Inc., who also contributed to this Viewpoint.