Michiana's Problem Solver looks into dangerous parking garages in downtown South Bend
SOUTH BEND, Ind. - Crime, homelessness, and drug use are alarming folks in Michiana about safety at downtown South Bend parking locations.
ABC57's Kevin Warmhold took a closer look at the concerns and even talked with a security expert about ways you can protect yourself while parking downtown.
“South Bend engine two medic two, medic 16-60, medic 16-61. 121 E Wayne Street, Wayne Street parking garage priority two response for a male who was shot, possibly in the head. Stage for PD.”
“Signal 10-10 gunshot wound to the head, white male.”
That was the radio call from March 5th, 2023, when a security guard from Magnum Security Services contracted by the City of South Bend tragically lost his life.
Police say 62-year-old Robert Pulliam was shot in the head by Derrick Pratcher.
This incident sparked a conversation about safety concerns inside and surrounding South Bend parking garages.
Jamie Schaar told ABC57 News, “It is scary that someone was, you know, assaulted and murdered here.”
“I've heard of break ins, stabbings, shootings, all sorts of stuff,” said Janelle Gardetto.
These issues make county employees and downtown visitors hesitant to use the downtown parking garage locations.
Even County Commissioner Derek Dieter agrees: “We've heard complaints from our own county employees.”
I talked with Commissioner Dieter about the problems because county employees regularly use the garages to park.
“There's homeless people and their drugs being used. That's not a place for any person, including the county employees who parked their personal cars there to go,” said Dieter.
One county employee told ABC57 off camera that she would rather park on the street and pay a fine.
We visited three parking garages downtown to get a firsthand look at the problem ourselves.
The Colfax and Main Street parking garage, located at 126 North Main Street, was the first stop.
We found clear signs of squatting and unsanitary conditions.
“You can see remnants of human feces right at the top of the garage in the corner, right adjacent the elevator.”
The lower-level stairwell covered in fresh urine.
“The stench is, is unbearable.”
While I was there, I talked with one local man who regularly parks his car there and was a victim himself.
"Unfortunately, my vehicle was stolen last year. The police eventually found the vehicle crashed after several hours, but yeah, unfortunately, it was taken," he said.
According to South Bend Police, there have been 26 crimes reported at this location since 2021.
Out of the three parking locations we visited, this parking location had the highest crime rate.
Next was the Leighton Parking Plaza at 120 Main Street.
The parking garage looked to be well maintained and there have been zero crimes reported since 2021.
One local resident told ABC57 she has been parking at this location for 8 years.
“I have always felt safe here.”
The parking garage located at 121 Wayne Street has had a total of 10 crimes reported at that location since 2021, including the recent homicide mentioned earlier.
We found signs of drug use and again signs of homeless people squatting.
After visiting all three parking garages I noticed two things not present: security guards visible to the public and surveillance cameras.
According to public records, the City of South Bend has paid over $35,000 in the past year to Magnum Security Services.
Second District City Common Council Representative Henry Davis Jr. said it's not enough.
"What a shame. We're paying for a service that we're not getting back in return," he said. "The contract obviously needs to be pulled."
ABC57 reached out to South Bend Mayor James Mueller for an interview.
He declined but provided in part this statement:
“My top focus remains keeping South Bend safe, welcoming, and vibrant....”
We also asked St. Joseph County Commissioner Dieter if the county can take some steps to offer another layer of protection.
He believes the cost to solve the problem is too expensive.
"It's either off-duty policeman and stuff like that, I can tell you, the county, we are not going to invest in having that, because it's very expensive."
It may be important for you to take the initiative to protect yourself.
We decided to reach out to ABC57 security expert Josh Gobel for some tips.
"So, you know, going back to the basics, know your surroundings, you know, we're in a society now, where are our faces, in our phone?"
"The criminals are so brazen now; it doesn't matter if it's in the middle of the night or in midday."
Gobel took us inside to the stairwell at the parking garage at 126 North Main Street, the most dangerous location.
"So, you're going to want to walk your angles, right, just like we learned at the academy. So, you're going to want to come up. And again, you're listening, you're hearing. So, before you go up, take a peek up. This is as far as you can see, but make sure that your eyes are up the entire time. You've already seen this section, you know, nothing's here. So now you're looking up. And you're taking the next step. Right? So, you're walking, and you're just kind of looking, you're also hearing. Do you hear anybody up here?"
After you make it up to your vehicle, Gobel said looking around and not being easily distracted by items like your phone is important.
"It's distracted walking, you know, you're walking in, you're looking at your phone the whole time, or, or you're on Facebook, or whatever you're doing, and you're not paying attention to where you're supposed to go."
Also make sure you have your keys ready to go.
"So, you go up to the car again, you're aware of your surroundings. As you get close enough to your car. You're gonna hit that unlock button, and then you're gonna get in still looking around. When you get in, lock your door."
The last tip:
"If they're looking suspicious, if you make eye contact with them, and they know that you see them, chances are, it's hands off, right, you're not going to because you can identify him, right. And so they're looking for that person that has too many bags, you know, can't defend themselves, you know, in those people that are distracted, that they can come up while you're looking at your phone, knock you over, grab your purse and run, and you never even you never even see him."
Gobel believes that remaining vigilant and aware of your surroundings, keeping your head up, and your hands-free can help make yourself "a hard target."
Right now, ABC57 is working to learn if the City of South Bend plans to install cameras inside the parking garages owned by the city.