South Bend BLM, NAACP Urge Common Council To Not Move Police Review Board Control To Mayor’s Office
The South Bend NAACP, Black Lives Matter and other community organizations are urging the Common Council to not change the structure of the city’s Community Police Review Board. The council is expected to consider a bill tonight that would move oversight of the board to the mayor’s office from its current home in the city clerk’s office.
The October ordinance that created the police review board placed it under the clerk's office instead of the mayor’s office to avoid conflicts of interest, as the mayor appoints the police chief and the board of public safety, which handles discipline for the South Bend Police Department.
In a letter to the council today, Mueller said he supports the bill moving the office under his control, and that he will not support funding the office until there’s a new director.
“As you know, there is unfortunately no successful path forward within the current structure,” Mueller said. “Every day this embarrassing episode continues, the more damage will be done to our community and the credibility of this important initiative.”
Under the amended ordinance, a new director would have to be hired by a majority vote of the Common Council.
During a town hall last week hosted by Black Lives Matter, Reynolds said moving the board to the mayor’s office is a “power grab” that would destroy its credibility.
That sentiment was echoed Monday by South Bend NAACP president Trina Robinson. She said the proposed change is being rushed.
“The council stated that the process to hire the CPRB director was flawed, because there wasn’t any community involvement,” Robinson said. “Where is the community involvement in this proposed bill?”
Robinson said the organization’s opposition to the change is not about whether Reynolds is the best candidate to run the board, but instead focused on maintaining the board’s independence.
“Everyone wants to say Mr. Reynolds had this in his personnel file, he had that in his personnel file — but the council has full records of the files of the police officers that had civil rights violations,” she said. “If we were to move this into the mayor’s office, we’re only giving them free reign to do what they do in the Black community.”
Dé Bryant, with Black Lives Matter South Bend, also said the proposed move puts the independence of the review board at risk.
“Black Lives Matter South Bend has worked for years to bring this community review board into existence,” Bryant said. “In order to be certain that it remains in place and allows us to operate this process as it was intended, we have to be certain that this bill, this particular bill, does not get passed.”
The proposed move also faces opposition from the Community Forum for Economic Justice, Justice for Michiana and the Michiana Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression.
Robinson said she and others met with council president Karen White and council members Canneth Lee, Lori Hamann, and Henry Davis, Jr. Monday morning, and that she’s praying for the council to “do the right thing” by voting down the bill.
In the letter, Mueller said the city clerk “excluded the Common Council from reaching a consensus on the hiring decision for the director,” has refused to fire him and has hired a lawyer to represent the office without discussion or an approved appropriation from the city.
“In short, the city clerk has inadequately collaborated with the Common Council at each and every step of the way and at times seems to work in defiance of Common Council and the broader community,” Mueller said.
But City Clerk Dawn Jones disagreed.
“There was no process set up by the council, nor did they have the authority to set up a process because they gave the authority to the clerk’s office,” Jones said. “I just want to do my job as the city clerk, and operate in independence as was established by the state.”
And if the bill passes, Jones said she’ll keep Reynolds on as an employee of the clerk's office. He won’t be running the police review board, but he’ll be working in some sort of investigatory role to promote community transparency.
“He has the skill set that we need,” she said. “He’s continuously doing his job, he’s investigating, he’s finding out things.”
Jones said Reynolds would continue to take complaints and investigate them, and then would publish information on what he finds.
“This is the clerk’s office,” she said. “We provide information. So that’s what we will do.”
Reynolds said he’s “here to serve the community,” and would be fine with that role. He also said he feels targeted by the mayor and the Common Council, and that the mayor has “had his chance” to implement changes in police oversight.
“He has a board that he runs,” Reynolds said. “He also has control over the police department, the police chief and all that.”
The common council is expected to consider the bill tonight during its 7 p.m. meeting.
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