Moving South Bend Police Review Board To Mayor’s Office Would Destroy Its Credibility, Director Says
During an Aug. 4 town hall hosted by Black Lives Matter, South Bend Community Police Review Board director Joshua Reynolds said moving oversight of the board to the mayor’s office from its current home in the city clerk’s office would destroy the board’s credibility.
According to the South Bend Tribune, the common council may consider a bill next week to make that change, which would sideline Reynolds.
“This kind of power grab move is breaking the trust of the community at this point, because this is a betrayal of what was promised,” Reynolds said. “My goal in all of this has always been to give back to the community, to help the city of South Bend deal with the many, many issues it has — especially as it relates to the police department, and also the city government, apparently.”
The October ordinance that created the review board placed it under the clerk's office instead of the mayor’s office to avoid conflicts of interest, as the mayor also appoints the police chief and the board of public safety, which handles discipline for the South Bend Police Department.
The proposed change comes after the controversy surrounding Reynolds’ appointment as director following revelations last month that he was suspended seven times during his work as an Indianapolis police officer. Reynolds has since refused to resign, and City Clerk Dawn Jones still supports him.
Mayor James Mueller told the Tribune Wednesday that he still thinks Reynolds should go. He added that if the bill passes, he wouldn’t be able to fire Reynolds as he was hired under the old ordinance, but that Reynolds would have no role in the restructured office.
During the town hall, Reynolds invoked the concept of restorative justice and said his past mistakes don’t define his future.
“If we’re going to talk about the restorative justice process and what that actually looks like, we have someone that can stand back and say I made mistakes,” Reynolds said. “I take responsibility for that, and I have changed. I’ve worked on becoming a better person.”
Reynolds alleges that he faced retaliation and harassment from the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department after reporting two officers for misconduct.
He also responded to statements by South Bend Fraternal Order of Police president Harvey Mills that Reynolds’ record would disqualify him from serving as a police officer here.
“I think there’s a pretty wide disparity in that claim that somehow, I’m unqualified with my record when we have officers that have been repeatedly accused of violating people’s rights,” Reynolds said. “It’s highly unusual for officers to have even one lawsuit against them for civil rights violations, let alone a half dozen.”
And in response to questions on whether he’d be more of an advocate for the community or the police, Reynolds said he’d be a neutral party that answers to the board.
“I serve the community in the broadest sense of that term — to include the police department and Black Lives Matter, all the different organizations, Michiana Alliance — everyone in the community,” Reynolds said. “I didn’t swear an oath to the mayor, police, anyone.”
He said his role as director is one of facilitation — think interacting with the community and getting the board members trained once they’re selected.
And he wants to help people get engaged with the board’s work through outreach on social media and community meetings like the Aug. 4 town hall.
“I want to have a relationship with the public,” Reynolds said. “I want them to know who I am, so that if they see me walking down the street, they say ‘Hey, can I talk to you for a second?’”
He said community outreach, combined with the board’s work, will help rebuild trust that may have been eroded due to the controversy surrounding his appointment as director.
“Ideally, I would like to be able to have contact with every person that has an interaction with a South Bend police officer on a day to day basis,” Reynolds said. “So, yesterday you got pulled over, today you’re going to get a phone call from our office that says ‘Hey, tell us about your interaction. Were you treated fairly?’ All those things.”
And he wants to stay as the board’s director as long as the public feels he’s doing a good job.
“If the public doesn’t feel that, and they communicate that to the board, they communicate that to Clerk Jones, that’s going to make the decision on whether I would stay in this position,” Reynolds said. “As far as I’m concerned, as long as I have the community support and the support of Clerk Jones, I’m going to continue on and keep doing what I’m doing.”
Reynolds said complaints can be filed in person, online or over the phone. Once one is made, the board would make an initial review and notify the police department’s internal affairs division.
Following an internal affairs investigation, the board could make a recommendation for disciplinary action, if needed. If the police department declines to take action, the board could then vote to continue investigating, initiate a hearing or conduct mediation.
Hearings would be recorded and conducted under oath. The board would determine if the charges are exonerated, sustained, not sustained or withdrawn, and send the findings to the complainant, the common council, the mayor and the board of public safety.
City Clerk Dawn Jones was also present during the town hall. In response to a question, she said that she feels her insistence on sticking with Reynolds ended up forcing the issue with the common council.
But she also said she hopes this isn’t a setback, as the most important thing is maintaining the board’s independence.
“If I cater to people telling me what to do with the staff, then is that really independence?” Jones said. “The independence of the board is crucial.”
Both Reynolds and Jones stressed the importance of properly funding the office. Reynolds said they need staff for community engagement and data analysis, as well as office space, equipment and training for board members and staff.
“This should not be treated as another community board that has no real expenses,” Reynolds said. “We have many expenses, and if we’re going to do this right, they need to be funded.”
Jones said that budgets of community police review boards in cities of similar size range from $450,000 to $750,000 annually.
The common council selects the nine board members, and those applications closed two weeks ago. The council is expected to vote on the bill to change the structure of the office on Monday.
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