New use of force policy approved for South Bend Police Department

Published: Feb. 17, 2021 at 6:16 PM EST
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. (WNDU) - After several months of evaluating drafts, the South Bend Board of Public Safety approved a new use of force policy for the police department in a 4-1 vote on Wednesday.

However, the board is giving the city 60 days to make revisions to the policy, as some members believed some language should be clearer.

Board member Darryl Heller asked if it was possible to delay the vote until the policy’s language was better defined for certain topics, such as “imminent danger” as listed in the section on use of deadly force.

“It’s really important that there is full, as much as possible, consensus on this. The use of force is one of, one of the aspects of policing that’s the most controversial - and, you know, controversial for a reason,” said Heller. “And there’s a real history to this, particularly when it comes to communities of color.”

Board President Luther Taylor voted to pass the policy but found issue with the terms “whenever feasible” that is used in the Deadly Force section, namely the lines “(c) Under such circumstances, a verbal warning shall precede the use of deadly force, where feasible (I.C. § 35-41-3-3). Officers shall identify themselves as an officer and provide a verbal warning that deadly force may be used prior to the use of deadly force, whenever feasible.”

“Just in the last paragraph is a very fine line, in my opinion, deserves an in-depth research in the legal department,” said Taylor. “I believe [’whenever feasible is] a fine line.”

Section 300.4 of the new South Bend Police Department Use of Force policy discusses when, as a last resort, an officer may believe deadly force is necessary under certain circumstances, which are enumerated.

The St. Joseph County Chapter of Faith in Indiana previously submitted to Mayor James Mueller a letter signed by more than 200 residents, emphasizing that deadly force should only be used as a last resort - no exceptions.

Following the Wednesday vote, Pastor Gilbert Washington, of St. Paul Bethel Missionary Baptist Church, said: “You know, [singer] Sam Cooke said, ‘It’s been a long time coming. But change is gonna come.’ This change is coming. And it’s needed. But we want to get it right.”

Rev. Terri Bays, priest at Church of the Holy Trinity in South Bend, said a further revised use of force policy will better serve police officers.

“They will know from practice, what is reasonable, right? They will know what the community expects of them, and that will go into their reasonable judgment,” she said.

The new policy also discusses de-escalation along with officers’ duties to intercede if they witness excessive force and to report the violations immediately to a supervisor.

Of the new protocol, Mayor James Mueller wrote:

I thank the Board of Public Safety for taking today’s important step and adopting the many improvements to our use of force policy that we have developed with the community over several months. We know there is more to be done and look forward to continue working with the community and Board members to lead in 21st century policing.”

South Bend Police Chief Scott Ruszkowski also issued a statement:

“We appreciate the approval of the updated Use of Force Policy in order for us to progress from the outdated policy currently in place. We note this is an evolving document (as are most of our policies) and as we have, we’ll continue further and open discussions with our community.”

A delegation of Faith in Indiana - St. Joseph County is meeting with Mayor Mueller on February 26th to discuss policy revisions.

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