Council president wants to seat police misconduct review board by year's end
South Bend Common Council President Sharon McBride Thursday said the council will meet behind closed doors within the next few weeks to discuss who should serve on the new Community Police Review Board, and she hopes to have members appointed by year’s end.
It’s been a long and tortured process so far.
The council spent months in 2020 arduously debating how the review office and board would be structured and what legal powers it would have. City Clerk Dawn Jones in 2021 hired Joshua Reynolds to direct the office and oversee the board, but he ultimately resigned after The South Bend Tribune reported that he had been suspended seven times from his previous job as an Indianapolis police officer.
Upset with Jones for the hire, the council then moved the director position to the mayor’s office.
Reynolds quit in September 2021. It took the city another 20 months to hire a new director, Charles King, who started in May.
In an interview Thursday with WVPE, when asked why the council still hasn’t appointed the board since King was hired, McBride said they’ve been too busy working on next year’s budget. She also said the administration had to decide where King’s office would be – namely, whether he would work out of the mayor’s physical offices or in the city’s Human Rights Commission offices.
But McBride admitted that King has been working in the Human Rights Commission offices since he started in May, so it wasn’t clear how that would have delayed the council picking board members.
“So we’re in a good place,” McBride said. “Unfortunately it’s been a long process but we wanted to make sure that we got it right.”
Each of the nine council members can nominate someone to serve on the review board. The full council will vote on each nomination. McBride said it was only last week that the final council member gave her their nominations. Now that the budget is finished, McBride said she expects to call a closed door meeting within the next few weeks. In that executive session, the council will discuss which of their nominees should be appointed. The actual votes to appoint the members must happen at a public council meeting.
McBride said she would like the board to be picked by the end of the year and begin training early next year, taking cases as soon as the board is formed.
McBride’s reasons the board still hasn’t been picked don’t hold much water with Council Member Lori Hamman, a co-author of the review board ordinance. Hamann has been frustrated by the inaction. She said the council wasn’t yet working specifically hard on the budget in June or July.
“The budget is kind of a year-round thing so if that is the excuse for not moving legislation or or enactment of legislation forward then we shouldn’t have the expectation of ever getting anything done,” Hamman said.
King’s salary has been set at $68,624. McBride said she doesn’t think taxpayer dollars have been wasted by paying his salary for five months without appointing a board for him to work with.
“That’s not a waste of taxpayer money because there’s a lot of information that he needs to learn,” McBride said. “He has been out and doing community engagement, he has been meeting with the police department, he has been meeting with other local community groups and having meetings. So actually that’s a great thing for him to get started.”
King agreed. Since joining the city payroll in mid-May, King said he has been reading complaints that residents have filed against South Bend police officers that the department’s internal affairs has shared with him. He said he has been studying how such review boards work in other places around the country and region.
He said he’s been reading the South Bend Police Department Duty Manual “backwards and forwards,” and he’s gone through the department’s Citizen Police Academy.
King says he’s spent a lot of time at the police department, “learning their processes, how they operate and how things work.”
"So there's a lot there to be learned. In one regard I'm kind of glad that I've had the opportunity to digest some of that information," King said. "If the board was operational right now, there would be some stuff that we would have been learning on the fly. But because of my tenure starting in May, it gave me an opportunity to really dig deep into a lot of the boards surrounding our community, and find out how they operate, get them on the phone. My plans over the next couple of weeks is to go visit a couple of them."
King says he thinks the board can start hearing complaints before it has been fully trained, and that the board should be citizens, not law enforcement experts. But Hamman says community policing review experts say boards should receive months of training before hearing their first cases.
“And we’ve wasted an entire year, and I knew they would,” Hamman said. “If this were a priority for the council or the mayor, that board would already be seated.”
A spokeswoman for Mayor James Mueller said he was not available Thursday for an interview.