Consulting firm gives South Bend Police Department guidance

Published: Nov. 16, 2023 at 6:45 PM EST
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. (WNDU) - New details from South Bend Police as they’re telling us a consulting firm is giving them guidance on how to be more transparent, responsive, and accountable to police our communities better.

Back in 2019, Chicago-based firm 21st Century Policing Solutions recommended six focus areas for the police department to highlight after then-mayor Pete Buttigieg reached out following the police-involved shooting death of Eric Logan.

21CP Solutions completed an audit of South Bend Police in July of 2020, and the six main areas of focus include the use of force (UOF), bias-free policing, body-worn cameras, accountability, community engagement and participation, and officer well-being, recruitment, and retention.

Included in those six categories were 54 recommendations in their report with an implementation guide, including implicit bias training, additional steps for their UOF review process, de-escalation training, and a focus on mental health.

“The only way to combat that implicit bias is to be aware of that, and make that a conscious thing,” said South Bend Mayor James Mueller (D).

Their body cam policies now require constant use, one of the first police stations in the state to implement this policy.

SBPD is also working with community partners to respond to mental health crises and now has 18 crisis intervention team officers.

They’ve also increased the frequency of their UOF training, emphasizing de-escalation and using deadly force only as a last resort.

“We went from 8 to 12 use of force trainings per year, from firearms to taser instructors and defensive-tactics instructors,” said South Bend Police Operations Division Chief Dan Skibins. “They are all part of this UOF review board, and if they sign off that they believe the policy was violated, it ultimately goes to us as Chiefs to review as well. So, a several layered approach, that was one of the recommendations by 21CP that we add to those layers, and we did so.”

Of the 54 recommendations, South Bend Police feels confident they have completed all but eight, and those, they say, will always be under scrutiny and require attention every time they arise, like the UOF.

“We’ve literally experienced a DNA change at our department,” said South Bend Chief of Police Scott Ruszkowski. “Now, whether that’s newer or younger officers coming in and having a different perspective, but I will tell you, this is my 36th year, and before, you would typically have, not all, but many administrations that would not listen. Nobody ever had a problem with the top-down, because that’s just the way it’s always been, but nobody ever bothered listening, not to be disrespectful, the bottom-up. What are our patrol officers, what are our detectives experiencing, feeling, seeing, hearing?”

In April, the city named Pastor Charles King III as the South Bend Community Police Review Board director, and the common council is currently working to form a board of 9 community members to work with King to continue holding police accountable.

The police department has also implemented a discipline matrix to handle officer offenses with different levels of violations appropriately.