Consultant: lagging pay a reason South Bend is challenged at recruiting officers

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The city of South Bend hired an outside consulting company to review the city police department’s policies and practices in order to figure out what can be improved upon as discussions of police reform continue.

21 CP has released a 67-page report detailing the changes that the South Bend Police Department should consider. The cover several topics from clarifying the department’s use of force policy, to better accountability. But, it also suggests the department find better ways to retain police officers.

“These are good suggestions that our police leadership and department sees value in pursuing,” said South Bend Mayor James Mueller. “A lot of the pieces you look for are already in our current policy, but there are ways to make it clearer and make sure there is no ambiguity or confusion.”

When it comes to a use of force policy, 21 CP recommends SBPD clarify that “force is justified when it is objectively reasonable.” Citing a Supreme Court ruling, the department should make it easier for an officer to understand what kind of force is appropriate and “proportional” for the given situation.

The report indicates SBPD already has a policy against “bias-based policing,” but suggests taking that policy further to make it clear officers should report to their superiors when they see otherwise.

As far as finding a way to better retain officers, Mayor James Muller says funding is an issue.

“We are short of the number of officers where we’d like to be,” Mueller said. “That’s one reason why we are looking to adjust the compensation for our officers and make sure we can recruit and retain our good officers.”

South Bend city leaders had been working on a pay raise for police officers, but that plan was tabled after the killings of George Floyd in Minneapolis and Rayshard Brooks in Atlanta that sparked mass protests that demanded police departments be defunded.

21 CP says in its report that South Bend officers “suggested that compensation was a major reason” why SBPD has had a hard time recruiting and retaining officers. They also said police departments in nearby communities are offering officers better pay and economic incentives to work in areas where crime is kept at a minimum.

But, acknowledging the civic and social demands of many in the community, they also recommend the city hire a more diverse crop of high-quality police officers.

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