Fort Wayne City Councilman Russ Jehl, R-2nd District, pledged his support to several police reform efforts during a June 16 council meeting.
Jehl closed out the meeting by reading a letter in support of two proposals being drafted by Councilwomen Sharon Tucker, D-6th District, and Michelle Chambers, D-at large. Tucker and Chambers are co-sponsoring those proposals in response to several complaints from residents regarding the Fort Wayne Police Department’s handling of protests May 29 and 30, which involved the use of tear gas and more than 100 arrests in downtown Fort Wayne. Since the final weekend in May, several more protests have occurred in the downtown area, and additional arrests have been made in connection with the demonstrations.
“I believe that our officers have performed admirably overall and are truly heroes. At the same time, as a city we should always be looking to improve,” Jehl said. “I am open to any proposals that will improve race relations and the ability to administer law and order and justice.”
On June 9, Tucker and Chambers said they were working on new policies that would include requiring all law enforcement officers to wear body cameras, banning the use of chokeholds, and creating an 11-member citizen review board to evaluate complaints on police behavior.
Jehl thanked Tucker and Chambers, as well as Councilman Glynn Hines, D-at large, for their leadership in exploring ways to increase accountability within the police department. He also stressed the importance of changing misconceptions and misunderstandings regarding the police department in order to have a more constructive dialogue with citizens.
Jehl said he was a proponent of equipping all officers with body cameras — something Councilman Tom Didier, R-3rd District, has also been a vocal proponent of in the weeks since the first protests in response to the death of George Floyd began in downtown Fort Wayne.
“It’s well past time, and I don’t see any scenario that I will vote for another budget without body cameras in the budget,” Jehl said.
In regard to the proposed creation of a citizen review board, Jehl said it is a “noble principle and a good effort if it can be fairly and effectively implemented.” He said he would support the concept if it includes three guiding principles:
• The public safety board should be reformed.
• Any further reforms need to avoid being anti-police — it needs to be collaborative.
• Any proposals should work in cooperation, not competition, with the public safety board.
Jehl said he has personally received about 600 emails from constituents regarding police reforms. He said he hopes the council and administration can address several of those concerns.
He also urged council to address diversity recruiting on a continual basis.
“Unfortunately, we as a city and especially the police department have plateaued here,” he said. “We cannot have another generation of minorities growing up believing that being an officer isn’t noble and isn’t aspiring to be a hero. So, for these endeavors I offer my bipartisan assistance, knowing that we as a community and as a nation need healing and need to turn tragedy into triumph.”