ELKHART — City police are expecting several policy changes as a result of the ongoing independent review of the Elkhart Police Department.
The review, which began in March after revelations of police brutality and disciplinary issues, is being led by former U.S. attorney Deborah Daniels, at the request of Mayor Time Neese. It is costing the city $146,800.
Chief of Police Chris Snyder on Friday said he is expecting updates to policies covering the public complaint process, communication and vehicle pursuits. He also announced a new advisory board.
Snyder and Neese, who held a joint news conference Friday morning, said the review will likely be completed by the end of the year. At that time, Snyder said, there will be updates to the department's use-of-force policy.
Vehicle pursuits were not within the initial scope of Daniels' review but was included, in part, because two pursuits by the department this summer resulted in suspects fatally crashing. Police were cleared in the June 9 fatal crash of Michael Mattox, but the Elkhart County Prosecuting Attorney is still reviewing the June 15 fatal crash of Cory Wright.
Snyder said most of the proposed policy changes concern substituting words such as "should" with "shall" or "will." Other changes provide better definitions within the policy, and the expectations and accountability of officers and supervisors will be clarified. Snyder would not go into further details, saying that the Board of Public Safety will have to approve these and other proposed changes for them to come into effect.
The proposed change of the complaint policy spells out that all complaints, inquiries and commendations will be investigated, regardless of the department's view of their seriousness.
After a complaint is investigated by the professional standards division, it will be sent to a review panel consisting of three captains before it is forwarded to the chief, Snyder said.
The chief said a proposed Use of Force Review Board, which has been brought up by the mayor, has been considered during the review. However, the city is struggling to find civilians who have the knowledge and time to be a good fit for such a board.
"I know nothing about electricity," Snyder said. "It would not be fair for me to go sit on an electric panel review board, so we want to make sure that the civilian that may be on that board would have the qualifications to be on that board."
Also at Friday's news conference, Snyder announced the creation of a new Chief's Advisory Board, which will consist of members of the public — chosen by Snyder — who will meet with him on a regular, probably monthly, basis.
"They will be able to provide any concerns and feedback from the community to the chief, and the chief will then be able to provide information back to them to help get in out to the community," he said.
Snyder believes finding individuals for that board will be easier than for the use-of-force board, since members will not be going into details of cases.
The chief would not comment on whether the proposed changes might have kept officers from punching a handcuffed suspect to the ground in 2018, had the changes been implemented before then, since the prosecutions against those officers are ongoing.
"But we feel like the changes that we are making now will make the Elkhart Police Department a better place, and we feel that it will certainly improve our relationships with the community," he said.
Neese said the city has been transparent during the review, and that Daniels' team has been given access to many records, including complaint files.
"I want to extend my appreciation to everyone that has played a role in this review process," Neese said. "The community has shown a strong willingness to be a part of the solution. I also want to thank, first and foremost, the men and women of the Elkhart Police Department for their openness."
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