Gun-toting city employees claim they are insufficiently trained

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- A frustrated South Bend city worker has exposed a situation to Common Council members that has them calling for changes.

The City of South Bend employs Park Police Officers. They are city employees sworn in under Indiana law as police officers without arrest powers. They carry guns, just like their counterparts that patrol the streets.

The only difference between the two is that the police officers of the South Bend Police Department have access to training, the park police officers do not; or so they claim.

The claims surfaced recently in a string of emails sent by Daniel Schaefer, a park police officer, to the Common Council members Derek Dieter, Oliver Davis, and Karen White.

Davis was so concerned about what Schaefer was describing he felt compelled to clue us in on the situation. And so we began making calls, asking questions, and getting reactions.

Schaefer has poured a significant amount of effort into his career as an officer, according to the exchanges and his multiple resignation letters.

One of his biggest bones of contention is with the training offered to him and the other park officers.

In his original resignation letter he writes, “I do not feel comfortable continuing in this job without the proper police training on a regular basis to ensure my competence and proficiency.”

About a year ago, Schaefer was instrumental in saving an South Bend Police Officer from getting seriously hurt, according to South Bend Police Officer and Common Council President Derek Dieter.

“Fortunately the officer and everything came out alright, but if [Schaefer] wouldn’t have been there I think it would have been very serious for the officer,” said Dieter.

Schaefer claims in his letter of resignation that he helped plan the park officer’s duty manual, training programs, and five year plan; all of which he writes, has never been followed through on.

He also expresses concerns that South Bend Chief of Police Ron Teachman “is allowed to keep us from being trained properly, and says we’re too much of a liability.”

Schaefer informed the Common Council that the St. Joseph County Sheriff had offered to train the park police instead, but that the City Administration blocked it.

According to the emails, Parks Department Director Phil St. Clair received an email from the mayor’s staff advising they were not to go outside the City of South Bend to any other agency for training until further notice.

Monday, the Mayor’s Office issued this statement; “members of the park police have been trained as recently as last year. The city is currently reviewing park police policy internally with various departments.”

They did not respond when we asked what kind of training was provided.

When we first reached out to ask Schaefer about the training, he was willing to talk to us. However he quickly withdrew his commitment after receiving a call from his boss reminding him he was still technically employed by the city and was not allowed to talk to us.

He was instructed to direct us to the city legal department.

He was also instructed by a superior at the Parks Department to re-submit a different letter of resignation with fewer details about why he was quitting. He wrote to the Council Officers that the superior told him, “human resources does not need to see any of the reasons [why he is] leaving.”

Schaefer submitted the new letter of resignation on June 2, giving his two-weeks notice.

The park police officers patrol and take care of more than 60 parks for the City of South Bend. They provide an integral and necessary function according to Councilman Dieter, who explains that police department officers cannot hope to cover all of them and still service the calls they get from residents.

Park police officers look like their police department counterparts, even carrying guns and driving cars with flashing red and blue lights. However they do not have the power to make arrests.

Schaefer claims they are not formally trained, and has raised concerns that Dieter and Davis share.

Davis would like to see the Board of Public Safety come together with several Common Council committees, such as Health and Human Services as well as Parks and Recreation, to develop a solution to this training issue.

According to Dieter, if the members of the park police feel like they should have more or better training, than there is no reason they shouldn’t get it.

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