Diversity on South Bend police force called into question after deadly officer-involved shooting

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — A circuit judge signed off on a request from the St. Joseph County prosecutor to appoint a special prosecuting attorney to investigate a deadly officer-involved shooting on June 16. 

In his ‘Petition for Appointment of Special Prosecuting Attorney,’ Prosecutor Ken Cotter listed 31 reasons why he was seeking an independent prosecutor. The following reasons have community members said raise concerns about racial bias in the South Bend Police Department: 

“22. That on June 18, 2019, I was advised by my Chief Investigator that he had written an “Officer’s Report” (when he was a Lieutenant with the South Bend Police Department) concerning comments made by Sgt. O’Neill and had turned that into the South Bend Police Department;

23. That Chief Investigator Newton supplied me with a copy of that Report, dated July 11, 2008;

24. That the report quotes two (2) other officers that voiced a concern of inappropriate racial remarks made by Ryan O’Neill...” 

Jordan Giger, the founder of activist group called ‘Blacktavists,’ said he is not surprised the allegations against O’Neill were mentioned. According to the prosecutor’s officer, O’Neill shot and killed Eric Logan, a 54-year-old theft suspect, on Sunday in downtown South Bend. 

“An officer clearly said that yeah he wanted to go and report on Sgt. O’Neill but he knew that if he did he was going to be targeted,” said Giger. 

Giger, who is in support of the appointment of a special prosecutor, said the community should not have to tolerate alleged racism inside the police department. 

“Be it explicit or implicit remove them from our communities,” he said. “Full stop that can happen tomorrow or by Friday as Tiana said.”

Tiana Batiste-Waddell spoke at Sunday’s town hall with Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Police Chief Scott Ruszkowski. She demanded that by Friday officers be tested to ensure they are culturally competent while out in the field. 

On Tuesday afternoon, the city said they did administer cultural competency profiles to the police department in between 2017 and 2018. According to Christina Brooks, the director of diversity and inclusion for the city, officers were offered a Diversity Awareness Profile and Harvard Implicit Bias test. 

However, results are not available, according to Brooks. Brooks said the city will prepare an analysis comparing the use of force instances to composite work the Diversity and Inclusion office. 

“Tell is what percent of the officers have been found to have some kind of bias,” said Giger. “If you’ve conducted these tests, release the data.”

In 2014, Mayor Buttigieg said the lack of diversity in the police department was “a real issue.” He told ABC 57 News that making sure the composition of the police force reflects the community it serves is part of building trust. 

However, Samuel Brown, a longtime resident of South Bend, said African Americans do not trust the police. He said the lack of trust makes it hard to recruit diverse talent. 

“That’s a problem,” Brown said. “We got to get the trust back.”

ABC 57 News reported that nearly 20 percent of people applying for the force are Black. Nine percent are Hispanic and 65 percent are White applicants. 

According to the department, there are 242 sworn officers. The racial breakdown of the department is as follows:

  1. 88 percent white,
  2. 5.4 percent black,
  3. And 4.9 percent Hispanic. 

This year, the department reports receiving a total of 176 applications. Giger said some people want to see more minorities on the force, but he does not. 

“Why would we want minorities to be in a department that’s clearly toxic, racist and hostile,” he said. 

A spokesperson for the South Bend Police Department sent the following statement to ABC 57 News: 

“The South Bend Police Department looks for the best, highly qualified candidates that can pass the intensive application process. Application requirements, process and salary information can be found here: https://police.southbendin.gov/get-involved/start-career-sbpd

In 2019, there have been a total of 176 applications submitted.

Recruiters attend area and regional college career fairs. Our recruiters also participate in local public safety career fairs. You will also see recruiters attend high school career fairs as the department has a cadet program available since 21 is the minimum age to be a sworn officer.

The department made applying easier by putting the application online. There is a practice agility test (the first step in the application process). If the applicant successfully completes all elements during the practice test, they move on. If the applicant fails, they are coached on what to work on for when the official agility test takes place. The department created a video to explain the agility test and what is expected from applicants. 

For the written exam, the department hosts a study session to help applicants better understand the test and to help them improve their score. 

Difficulty recruiting individuals into law enforcement is a national issue. Departments across the country and locally compete for the best applicants through career development opportunities, incentives, and competitive salaries.”

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