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Elkhart police give update on outside review of department, changes ahead

NOW: Elkhart police give update on outside review of department, changes ahead

ELKHART, Ind. - Changes are being made at the Elkhart Police Department, even before an independent outside review is complete.

On Friday the mayor and police chief announced they’re already making changes and trying to win back public support.

“We acknowledge that we’re not perfect and we’re not going to be without faults but we’re willing to make changes and improve,” Elkhart Mayor, Tim Neese, said.

A shocking video of two Elkhart police officers beating a man handcuffed to a chair in the city jail in January of 2018 sparked outrage, got them hit with federal civil rights charges, cost then chief Ed Windbigler his job and prompted an independent review of the entire department.

In February, Neese chose former Indiana U.S Attorney Deborah Daniels to study police training and policies including use of force and disciplinary procedures

Daniels is supposed to give her recommendations by the end of the year.

“The intent of this review was to reaffirm the credibility of the department and produce findings and recommendations to generate positive change where necessary,” Neese said.

The main changes announced Friday include updates to the department's professional standards policy. Now a police review panel will investigate all complaints that come in, regardless of seriousness. And the addition of a new citizens advisory board.

“This board will consist of members of the community who will meet with the chief on a regular basis,” Elkhart Police Chief, Chris Snyder, said. “They will be able to provide any concerns and feedback from the community to the chief. The chief will then be able to provide information back to them to help get it out to the community.”

Elkhart residents say that’s a good step forward.

“That’s awesome because most complaints that ever came across before were just unrecognized and never even thought of, just pushed to the side,” Steven Peepers, one resident said. “I’m hoping this opens the eyes and they start hearing us.”

In the wake of two deadly police chases in June, the city decided to also change vehicle pursuit policies which were not initially a part of the review’s scope.

There will be changes to wording like “should” will likely be changed to shall or will and there will be better definitions to make the policy clearer.

“Those pursuits have something to do with it only because there were other things that tied in,” Snyder said. “The most important part is the expectations and accountability that the officers and more importantly the supervisors will be held to in all vehicle pursuits.”

The independent review should be done by the end of the year, but they wanted to get started on reforming the department before then.

Rod Roberson the Democratic Mayoral Candidate said this is a positive step forward but there is much to be done.

“Language and guidelines and sops would not have prevented that issue from happening. It does come from being proactive around making sure there is a culture that exists that says this is not acceptable and these are the consequences if these things happen,” Roberson said.

Republican Dave miller was not available, but his campaign manager did say there is “no comment at this point until the results of the review are in. Dave has always been clear that there needs to be policies, procedures, training in place to prevent terrible tragedies from happening.”

Any potential changes still have to be approved by the Board of Public Safety and that could start as soon as this month. Chief Snyder said it will be discussed at their next meeting on November 12th.

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