Mayor Pete Buttigieg directed his police chief on Tuesday to order all South Bend, Indiana, police officers to turn their body cameras on when interacting with civilians on duty, making the decision after a tumultuous week where the presidential candidate was pulled from the campaign trail after an officer-involved shooting left one man dead.
The week has been a trying one for Buttigieg, who returned to South Bend on Sunday after an officer shot and killed a man who was allegedly breaking into cars with a knife in hand. In response, Buttigieg canceled an appearance at a Democratic National Committee event on Monday, as well as a series of fundraisers in California on Tuesday and Wednesday.
But the week also put into focus Buttigieg’s struggles with some African American activists in his hometown, who rallied on Monday night in response to the shooting, and festering conflicts between the rising mayor and his police department, which has long been the focus of complaints from the city’s African American residents.
“Officers should activate their body cameras during all work-related interactions with civilians,” South Bend Police Chief Scott Ruszkowski told officers Tuesday on the orders of Buttigieg, the mayor’s office announced.
“In the wake of Sunday’s shooting, we must acknowledge the hurt and honor the humanity of all involved in this loss of life,” Buttigieg said in a statement. “We also have a responsibility to take every step that can promote transparency and fairness, both in dealing with the recent incident and looking towards the future.”
He added that the decision is “intended to confirm community expectations that police encounters with civilians will be recorded” and convey that “this work must continue with more urgency than ever as we move forward together in the wake of the hurt caused by what took place on Sunday.”
Buttigieg will speak with new police officers and their families on Wednesday during a Board of Public Safety swearing-in ceremony at the South Bend Police Department.
Buttigieg heralded his police department’s use of body cameras during his time as mayor.
In 2018, after the city implemented a new body camera policy, the mayor tweeted, “We’re bringing the best national public safety policies to South Bend. Body-worn cameras for the @southbendpolice will improve mutual trust and accountability between officers and the public.”
Asked on Tuesday whether Buttigieg believed in 2018 that the body cameras would always be on, Mark Bode, the spokesman for Buttigieg’s mayoral office, indicated that the “city’s expectation” was that “all officers are to keep their body cameras activated when engaging with civilians.”
“The Mayor’s expectation hasn’t changed since the implementation of the body cameras,” Bode said in an email.
Buttigieg acknowledged struggles with implementing body cameras early this year during an event in South Carolina when he was asked about his ability to court black voters.
Calling the issue the “the most important pieces of homework for our campaign,” Buttigieg said it was incumbent on him to introduce himself to black voters who didn’t know him and tell them what he has done on the economy and criminal justice.
“When we were trying to implement body cameras and we’re dealing with all of the problems, it’s a complicated thing to try to do, it sounds easy, but you have all of these questions about how to maintain the footage and legal policies, and it really helped that I could send my police chief to the Obama White House for the 21st-century task force on policing and get help,” Buttigieg said.
Buttigieg went home to South Bend on Sunday after the officer-involved shooting and held a late-night news conference where he said that mistakes he had made in the past when responding to officer-involved shootings had guided his decision to get in front of cameras quickly.
“I know that whenever an incident like this happens, there is tremendous hurt that can come about. That the city will be hurting,” Buttigieg said. “And we will be striving to reach out to community members, to community leaders, to keep the channels of communication open, even as we wait for more facts to come in.”
Buttigieg then met with roughly 30 community leaders – including members of the city’s Common Council, the mayor’s staff and police department leadership – on Monday to discuss the shooting, according to event attendees.
The group, known as the Police-Community roundtable, meets monthly but an emergency meeting was called in light of the shooting. The two-hour discussion ranged from lethal force to specifics of the shooting to trust between the community and the police, according to Andre Stoner of the Near Northwest Neighborhood, who attended the event.