Assessing South Bend's rise in crime and police department morale
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- While correlation doesn't mean causation, some crime stats in South Bend are rising while morale at the department is low. Several police officers, who cannot be identified because they are still employed, tell ABC57 that they don't feel like they're being supported by their leadership or the Mayor. Some have said it is causing officers to be timid or even hesitant in their response to crime.
So far this year, aggravated assaults are up 27-percent, from 270 to 344 in the first 5 months of the year. Auto Thefts are up nearly 50 percent, from 154 to 230 in the same timeframe.
“I’m not supporting vigilante behavior, like some people feel. But we have a lot of support for my boys.” Sylvia Guevara, the mother of two men who had a shootout with a group of alleged robbers, said.
Guevara's sons, Jorge and Emmanuel, were arrested for chasing down the men they say robbed Emmanuel Guevara. They are accused of firing at the men with a handgun and AK-47. One of the alleged robbers was shot in the back and is still in the hospital. The other two men got away. However, according to charging documents, several guns were found in the alleged robbers' vehicle.
Guevara believes the reaction from her children is the culmination of unchecked crime in their neighborhood on the west side. She believes the current political climate is hindering police and at least contributing to crime in the area.
“I understand how the police feel, because that’s how we feel right now. We are taking extra security and safety measures in case our lives are in danger." Guevara said. “We’ve had shootouts in my backyard! The police have said that they couldn’t do anything because nobody was seriously wounded.”
The owner of a bakery near her home, where Emmanual Guevara did side work, says she also believes criminals are not being treated harshly enough.
“I feel everybody wants more arrests. They want the people who are doing harm in the vicinity to be held accountable.” She said.
Another man on South Bend's South Side, who wished to stay annonymous, contacted ABC57 with similar concerns after a man broke into his home with a knife at around 1:00pm on July 12th.
“We got into an actual fist-fight in my kitchen.” He said.
The man eventually retrieved a gun and held the intruder until police arrived. He claims the man told police he was running from three people who were chasing him and took refuge in the man's home. Police tell ABC57 that the man initially told police he did not wish to file charges and decided later to file something with the police. The crime was listed as trespassing. The victim claims it was strongly insinuated by officers that he not press charges initially.
“The policeman turned around to me and told me that I needed to settle down and put myself in his (the intruder's) shoes.” He said.
Both that victim and the owner of the bakery say they think the current political climate is at least contributing to what they see as a lack of justice.
“I think absolutely cops have their hands tied. Absolutely.” Retired St. Joseph County Metro Homicide Commander, Tim Corbett said.
Corbett tells ABC57 that he believes there is a lack of support for law enforcement from the Mayor and other leadership. He believes the consequences could be having an impact on safety.
“Ask the tough questions of the Mayor. What are you having the street crimes unit do? What are you telling them? ‘Let’s take a deep breath and sit back.’ All you’re doing is allowing people to take power that don’t deserve that power. I’m talking about the bad guys." He said.
Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Police Chief Scott Ruszkowski did not agree to be interviewed for this story.
A department spokesperson sent the following statement:
“Officers with the South Bend Police Department are professionals who regularly go above and beyond to serve the community… In addition to proactive policing, walking patrols, and investigations, the department will continue to reach out to the community for their help in reducing crime by coming forward with information to help make the city a safe place for all.”