When is deadly force by police justified? ‘Imminent threat’ defined in South Bend policy

Caption: The Board of Safety voted to approve a series of revisions to the South Bend Police Department’s use of force policy Wednesday, June 16, 2021 (South Bend Tribune)

By Marek Mazurek | South Bend Tribune
June 16, 2021

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SOUTH BEND — The Board of Public Safety Wednesday voted to incorporate a series of changes to the South Bend Police Department’s use of force policy.

The revisions center around language related to the deadly use of force and include more substantial definitions for the term “imminent threat.”

“Today’s vote, when it comes to the use of force policy, is a victory for our community,” said Claval Hunter, a local pastor and a member of Faith in Indiana. “It brings us one step closer to having a police force that respects our rights and treats all as equals and makes sure we return home to our loved ones safely.”

Wednesday’s vote by the Board of Public Safety comes on the second anniversary of the fatal shooting of Eric Logan by former South Bend police officer Ryan O’Neill.

The use of force policy was passed in February. Some board and community members, however, have pushed for revisions to the policy since its adoption.

Over the past couple of months, representatives from the mayor’s office, the police department and Faith in Indiana have worked on a series of updates, which were submitted to the board at meetings in April and May. On Wednesday, the board voted unanimously to adopt the new revisions.

Concerns about language

Language surrounding deadly force has been a concern of Faith in Indiana’s throughout the process of implementing the use of force policy. The changes in that section of the policy add, among other things, that deadly force “may only be used as a last resort” and when it does not endanger innocent people.

“The new policy is a vast improvement over what we lived with for years. It has a clear and high threshold for the use of deadly force,” Hunter said during the public portion of Wednesday’s board meeting.

The changes add definitions and further clarify certain items in the existing policy.

For example, the latest draft of the document now defines “feasible” and “imminent threat.”

The previous policy listed the word imminent as “ready to take place; impending,” however the revised version adds imminent threat to mean, in part, “an officer’s objectively reasonable assessment of impending risk of death or serious injury to the officer or another person from any action or outcome that may occur during an encounter.”

Changes to the definition of “proportionality” also clarify the appropriate amount of force for officers to use is the “minimum amount of force” necessary.

Other changes include specific wording, such as changing the word “pointing” to “aiming” regarding firearms and “intends” to “about to” when assessing a suspect’s behavior in regards to the use of deadly force.


Email Marek Mazurek at mmazurek@sbtinfo.com. Follow him on Twitter: @marek_mazurek

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