The South Bend Common Council is actively discussing ways for the city to increase minority representation in the police and fire departments.
The Common Council unanimously passed a non-binding resolution on December 8 that recognizes the “need to develop viable programs in both the South Bend Fire Department and the South Bend Police Department which prioritize minority recruitment and retention for both of these public safety departments.”
City data shows that white police officers are greatly overrepresented in the South Bend Police Department. While white residents only make up 55.8 percent of the city’s population, white officers account for 84 percent of the police force.
Meanwhile, African Americans make up 26.6 percent of South Bend’s population but only 10 percent of the police force. South Bend’s rapidly growing Latino community now accounts for 13 percent of the city’s population but only 4.3 percent of the police force.
The disparity among females is even more striking. Females make up a slight majority of South Bend’s residents but only 23 female officers — 9 percent of the total police force — serve in the 253 member South Bend Police Department.
According to two members of the Council, the representativeness is even worse in the Fire Department, although specific percentages were not provided.
What should the Council and Mayor Buttigieg do to increase diversity in the police and fire departments?
Councilman Tim Scott talked about the need for better marketing and training, emphasizing that “every candidate has to be the best candidate.”
“We need to have the marketing geared towards everybody,” Scott told the South Bend Voice. “Do we have the marketing tools, the training for recruiting?”
Scott pointed to the South Bend Police Department’s website as evidence that an overhaul on marketing techniques needs to occur.
The site has a marketing video from 2008 featuring Ozzy Osbourne’s “Crazy Train”. The only African-American in the video is former Police Chief Darryl Boykins, who was demoted during the early days of Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s term allegedly in connection to a federal wiretap investigation.
Scott says that there are assets in our community, such as Notre Dame, being underutilized.
“We have some of the best marketing people right here in South Bend.”
Aside from marketing, the Council is considering offering recruitment bonuses of $250 to $500 to police officers.
Even if the city were to hire a disproportionate number of minority candidates — which does not appear likely — it would take years for the city to achieve anything near a representative police force. Only ten to fifteen police officers are hired every year, according to Scott.
Councilman Henry Davis Jr., who led the effort to pass the non-binding resolution and is skeptical of the bonuses proposal, has ideas of his own.
Davis Jr. would like to see the hiring age reduced for police officers. The South Bend Police Department currently mandates that officers be at least 21 years old. He also questioned the logic of recruiting college students outside of the Criminal Justice field, who likely are already pursuing different career options. Instead, Councilman Davis Jr. would like to see the South Bend School Corporation teach Criminal Justice classes to increase interest in the profession among local youth.
Davis Jr. added that tax dollars come in the form of jobs.
“That is obviously not happening,” Davis Jr. says, referring to job opportunities in the police and fire departments for minorities and women.
Davis Jr. says that his constituents are “asking for a police force that looks like what the community looks like.”
A formal ordinance has not yet been drafted, although the Common Council will begin having discussions on the proposed minority hiring program and other police reforms beginning in January.