Police Discipline Matrix approved, community leaders look for next steps

SOUTH BEND, Ind. - The police discipline matrix was unanimously approved by the Board of Public Safety at their meeting Wednesday morning.

The matrix will hold officers accountable for their actions.

Before an officer did something wrong, the chief would give his recommendations on the discipline and the Board of Public Safety would come up with the repercussions

But this matrix is a comprehensive list that will help with consistency and keeping track of repeat offenders.

“Just like COVID-19, it is evident that the killing of an unarmed black people is an urgent public health crisis. And we say enough is enough," Rev. Clavel Hunter, with Berean Seventh Day Adventist Church and a member of Faith in Indiana said.

Community leaders, including “faith in Indiana” urging the Board of Public Safety to approve the police discipline matrix.

The board - doing just that.

“It is important for the first time to have clear guidelines or discipline for police, which will have increasing consequences for repeat offenders. A modest, but critical step and responsible policing," Robert Smith, MLK Sr. Men’s Club President and member of Faith in Indiana said.

It’s something that has been top of mind for many since last year. Following the officer-involved shooting death of car break-in suspect eric logan. That officer Ryan O'Neill was cleared of any official wrongdoing but quickly quit his job following public backlash.

It sparked a series of protests and rallies calling for change within the department.

Mayor James Mueller said the city did its best to listen to the community’s suggestions after it happened.

“Some community members came forth with this model that other cities have adopted and thought it was a good idea to make sure our discipline was consistent and as potential violations occur that there is progressive discipline," he said.

Now the final 6-tier matrix directs the board of public safety on what specific disciplinary actions they should take and when.

And includes things like use of force, improper search seizure and entry, failure to use recording equipment like body cameras and discrimination.

The discipline ranges from oral reprimand to suspensions, and even termination.

Police Chief Scott Ruszkowski said in the morning meeting that the matrix is a living document meaning it can be changed to better suit the community and the officers.

“This wasn’t an exhaustive list of violations so if something comes up we can always add that. We can find out if something is working or not. Maybe we find out as we implement this that maybe it’s too severe, maybe it’s too lenient so those adjustments can be made as well," Mueller said.

Faith in Indiana members sid they look forward to seeing an updated use of force policy soon. Mayor Mueller telling ABC57 it is still under legal review and should have a draft coming out soon.

Now, this matrix is a long time coming after several community input meetings helped shape what the document is today.

But even with all that careful thought, many hope it will be taken seriously.

“There’s a lot of different ways that that could work. It could potentially if we get a civilian review board in place they could take a look at this at least on an annual basis and make recommendations," Mueller said. "The board of public safety could do it as well. That hasn’t been entirely worked through yet but that’s something we want to do at least at the annual level.”

As for members of Faith in Indiana, they have some ideas to hold the city accountable.

“While it is important to have good policies, it’s more important to implement these policies. Faith in Indiana will be monitoring how the matrix is implemented," Smith said. "We call upon the city to foster transparency by adding the level of infraction and disciplinary measures to is currently monthly report publishing and an annual audit of the matrix and of which, which will be done by an external, independent auditor."

An outside firm released a report looking at the South Bend Police Department policies.

Mayor Mueller said the city is looking at how to implement those recommendations moving forward.

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