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South Bend Common Council addresses delays, provides update on Community Police Review Board

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Jennifer Weingart
/
WVPE Public Radio

The South Bend Common Council provided some updates on the status of the city's Community Police Review Board during a Wednesday committee hearing. The council has not yet named any of the nine board members, despite taking applications in June 2021.

The Community Police Review Board was originally going to be directed by Joshua Reynolds.

But he resigned in August 2021 after a South Bend Tribune investigation revealed that Reynolds had been suspended seven times during his work as an Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department officer.

Under the original ordinance, the board’s director was hired by and worked under City Clerk Dawn Jones while the common council appointed the nine board members.

After Jones refused to fire Reynolds, the common council unanimously passed an ordinance that moved oversight of the police review board from the clerk’s office to the mayor’s office, at least until the election of a new clerk in 2023.

The director position remains vacant — council member Troy Warner said Wednesday that the city has received 31 applications.

But the council has yet to name the board’s other nine members, despite taking applications starting in June 2021.

According to the ordinance that created it, the board’s nine members must be selected from nominations by each member of the common council, must be South Bend residents and must not be sworn law enforcement officers.

Each council member could nominate up to three candidates. The council would then, by a simple majority vote, choose the board’s nine members.

But in a Wednesday Community Relations Committee meeting, Warner said the current process is confusing and could mean up to 27 nominees.

“Right now, a simple majority of the council could potentially have the power to determine the whole nine,” Warner said.

He proposed changing the ordinance, so each council member gets one appointment subject to a simple majority vote, and also suggested adding a background check process for nominations.

In response to concerns that it could have a chilling effect on applications, Warner said he doesn’t envision a “hard disqualification” for serving, but that he would “like to know” about the backgrounds of potential members so the council could have discretion in choosing who gets on the board.

In response, council member Lori Hamann said that in previous background check discussions, most of the council said active criminal investigations would be a disqualifier but previous convictions would not be.

But Hamann also said she was “blindsided” by Warner’s suggestions.

And she spoke out against comments by council members Eli Wax and Rachel Tomas Morgan — both said the council made no progress on appointing board members in 2021 because they didn’t decide on a process for doing so.

“And that is what I understand we’re trying to do at this point,” Tomas Morgan said.

Hamann called that a deliberate choice, and said she’s been getting questions from constituents on why the council hasn’t moved forward.

She also said she sent multiple emails last year regarding developing that process but received no engagement from the rest of the council.

“We went an entire year and did nothing,” Hamann said. “And we could have a board that has already been through a good portion of their training at this point and ready to roll as soon as a director is found, but that is not the state we find ourselves in because we chose to do nothing.”

In response, Wax said he recalls having a meeting to discuss the process, but it concluded without a resolution and there was no follow up meeting or email.

Tomas Morgan said she drafted a document in response to Hamann’s email that outlined a process and repeatedly asked the council to meet to discuss it, but the council “just didn’t move.”

And she agrees that the council needs to take responsibility for that.

“For whatever reason, someone didn’t step up to move the ball forward,” Tomas Morgan said. “So, this is where we are today.”

Echoing that, Lee said the council should focus on moving the process forward instead of looking back on “what did and didn’t happen.”

“We had a tough year last year — a lot of things happened,” Lee said. “But now it’s a new year, let’s just work on how we bring it forward and bring it to life.”

To that end, Warner said the committee will meet again next week to discuss the matter further.

Contact Jakob at jlazzaro@wvpe.org or follow him on Twitter at @JakobLazzaro.

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Jakob Lazzaro comes to Indiana from Chicago, where he graduated from Northwestern University in 2020 with a degree in Journalism and a double major in History. Before joining WVPE, he wrote NPR's Source of the Week e-mail newsletter, and previously worked for CalMatters, Pittsburgh's 90.5 WESA and North by Northwestern.