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South Bend mayoral candidates speak on recent public safety issues

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SOUTH BEND, Ind. — On Wednesday, South Bend Mayoral candidates Republican Sean Haas and Democrat James Mueller spoke on public safety issues within the city. 

Since a deadly officer-involved shooting in June, data shows a drop in trust between the community and police department. 

The officer involved with June 16’s shooting did not activate his body camera. 

Two days after the shooting, South Bend Police Chief Scott Ruszkowski sent an order to officers by request of the Mayor to “remind all personnel of our Body Camera Activation Policy #424.6.” 

“This is one we have to get right,” Mueller said. 

Mueller said the city can build trust in the community by creating an empathetic environment, recruiting diverse officers who live in South Bend, and improving police policy. 

“We didn’t get everything right clearly in this situation,” Mueller said. “And continuing to work with the police department to make improvements.”

According to Haas, community-police relations should be a priority. Haas said he would like to see officers insert themselves in the schools as mentors, coaches, etc. 

“We can see them as people in the community working towards a common goal, I think that’s going to help build trust,” said Haas. 

A department spokesperson told ABC 57 News the department has placed emphasis on relationship-policing which includes the following: 

  • 8,000 walking/school patrols in 2018,
  • Community/neighborhood/living room meetings,
  • Multiple community cookouts,
  • Trick or treat event that drew more than 6,000 people,
  • Bought gifts for kids and families in distress for the holidays
  • Police Athletic League in the summer that currently has 460 children enrolled,
  • Food pantry,
  • Pizza and popsicle patrols. 

On Monday, ABC 57 News reported several South Bend Police Officers who feel like they’re not supported by department leadership or current Mayor Pete Buttigieg. The department did not respond to questions about officer morale. 

“The police officers that I’ve talked to, up until the incident in June, it felt like morale was very high they were building camaraderie, they were building trust,” said Haas. “But the undercutting that happened by Mayor Pete after the shooting I think really did destroy some of that morale.”

Mueller, who Buttigieg endorsed for Mayor, said across the nation it is a difficult time to be a public servant with a growing list of duties.

“There hasn’t been corresponding increase in resources or other support systems,” said Mueller. 

Some of community members have called for Mayor Buttigieg and Chief Ruszkowski to step down amid the controversy in the city. Mueller does not agree with the calls for the resignation of either man. 

“What happens then,” he said. “I don’t see how that leads to any more progress in the next few months.”

Haas said he does not want Chief Ruszkowski to resign but continues to call for Mayor Buttigieg to step down.  

“I don’t think he has South Bend’s interest in mind,” he said. 

ABC 57 News reported that aggravated assaults increased by 27 percent in the first five months of 2019. So far, it’s been a violent start to the summer in South Bend with two deadly shootings near popular bars. 

Haas said he wants to add more officers to SBPD, expand recruitment efforts and review police equipment. 

“Making sure that they have serviceable weapons,” Haas said. “Serviceable safety equipment, cars.”

Mueller said he wants to expand enforcement efforts and department units like Group Violence Intervention. 

“Right now, there’s clearly there’s not enough going on,” Mueller said. 

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