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South Bend Common Council unveils process for hiring new Community Police Review Board Director

CPRB-Director-Selection
Jakob Lazzaro
/
WVPE
Common Council President Sharon McBride speaks about the new process for selecting a Community Police Review Board Director during a March 10 press conference.

The South Bend Common Council has unveiled a process for hiring a new director for the city’s Community Police Review Board — and it will include a lot of public input.

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

But he resigned in August 2021 after a South Bend Tribune investigation revealed that he’d been suspended seven times during his work as an Indianapolis police officer.

The position has remained vacant since then, but in a Thursday press conference, the Common Council unveiled the process for hiring a new director.

“What we learned from the last process loud and clear was there wasn’t enough transparency and there wasn’t enough public input,” Council Vice President Sheila Niezgodski said. “This process that’s outlined is very open, it’s very transparent, and it’s very clear.”

The new process has three rounds. First, the council president Sharon McBride and the city’s human resources department will conduct preliminary phone interviews with all the candidates.

Next, the council will hold a public meeting to gather input on desired experiences, characteristics and qualifications for the position.

The council will then craft interview questions and situational scenarios in line with those responses — the questions will be used in second and third round interviews with the candidates.

All applicants will also get background checks, which will include a review of social media posts and a public records check for disciplinary records of any former government employees.

In the second round, the council will narrow the application pool down to five finalists and release their names.

And for the third round, the council will hold public interviews with those five finalists. People will be able to submit questions and topics two days in advance.

At the meeting, each finalist will introduce themselves and be interviewed by the city’s HR rep, the council president and the council attorney. Then, a moderator will open up the meeting for a final round of public input and discussion on the applicants.

Two days later, the community relations committee will meet to provide its final input on the finalists. And finally, the council will vote on a resolution recommending no more than three applicants to Mayor James Mueller, who has the ultimate say on who to hire.

“We wanted to make sure that everyone felt included, so that everyone has confidence in this process,” Niezgodski said. “That is the number one goal.”

Council member Karen White agreed.

“It has taken longer than we have anticipated, but the bottom line is that we’re going to get it done,” White said. “And the end result is that it’s going to be great.”

Earlier this week, council member Henry Davis Jr., criticized Troy Warner for developing the plan because he also serves as a legal advisor and public information officer for the St. Joseph County Police Department.

"We've stepped on public trust throughout this entire process, we're still stepping on public trust," Davis told WSBT on Tuesday. "The public said no law enforcement leading the charge and we have law enforcement leading the charge."

Warner, who chairs the community relations committee, said in response Thursday that the proposal is a “broad council plan,” and that 75 percent of it came from the city’s human resources department.

“I’m not leading the charge on this,” Warner said. “I put the plan on paper, I took input from all of the council members, HR, I also used recommendations that came from a white paper that was done by a community activist group.”

Warner said that white paper led to the council’s plan to release demographic data, including zip codes, on the applicants as well as holding the final public meeting.

Per the ordinance, the board’s nine volunteer members may not be sworn law enforcement officers, but there’s no such restriction on the director.

Warner said he did not remember whether that restriction was “considered or debated” when the bill was passed. But he also said hiring a sworn LEO for the position “would lead to a lot of questions and concerns.”

As of late last week, the city has received 33 applications for the position, most of which were received in the last six weeks. The plan is up for a vote before the full council on Monday.

If it passes, Warner said phone interviews will begin later that week and the first public meeting will be held by the end of March.

In the best-case scenario, he said the process could be completed by May or June, but the city is also prepared to hire a headhunting firm if they feel none of the applicants are a good fit.

The plan also outlines the process for selecting the board’s nine members. Each council member will interview and nominate candidates within their district, with the council’s three at-large members interviewing and nominating candidates from anywhere in the city.

Members must be South Bend residents and must not be sworn law enforcement officers, and all nominees will go through the same background check process as the board’s director.

The nine nominees will be introduced at a public meeting and will be appointed to the board via a simple majority vote.

The online application for board members will remain open until 4 p.m. on April 15.

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.