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U.S. Department of Justice
Office of Community Oriented Policing Services
“I was helping out at our Halloween Cops and Goblins event when I spotted a boy who was struggling to visit the treat tables,” said Officer Jim Burns, Lead Chaplain of the South Bend (Indiana) Police Department (SBPD). “He had a lot of trouble walking due to some sort of disability and was very frustrated. When I asked if I could pick him up, his mother said that would be nice, and the boy got the biggest grin on his face. So, I carried him to all the tables, and he got to collect candy just like the other kids.”
While in the middle of this “special duty,” Officer Burns’s picture was taken by James McKinnies, a local resident who posted this photo on his Facebook page, noting that the boy’s mother was moved to tears and all who saw it were touched.
Like children throughout the South Bend area, this child was thrilled to attend the annual Cops and Goblins event. Held in the Four Winds Field Stadium, which is home to the South Bend Cubs (a minor league baseball team), the event attracts thousands of kids and adults.
But carrying the child through these crowds was no burden to Officer Burns, who says, “That’s what we’re here for—to help everybody, no matter what their age.”
Community service is a big part of Officer Burns’s life. As a chaplain, he helps people in the department as well as the community when they are in need after a tragic event. It’s also a major focus of the SBPD, which hosts a wide variety of events and supports numerous programs to serve the people of South Bend.
Though widely known as the home of University of Notre Dame, South Bend is the fourth-largest city in Indiana and home to approximately 102,000 residents.
According to Officer Keenan Lane, who works in the Strategic Intelligence Office of the SBPD’s Strategic Focus Unit, the department strives to do as much to serve these people as it can, with camera registration programs, neighborhood watches, a ’ police academy, and a lot of outreach events. “We try to come up with new ways to improve safety and build relationships and partnerships every year,” he says.
One such partnership is the South Bend Group Violence Intervention (SBGVI), which unites community leaders, law enforcement, social services, health care, and faith-based groups in a common goal: to stop gun violence and keep South Bend’s highest-risk citizens alive and out of prison.
Based on a model developed by the National Network for Safe Communities at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, the SBGVI advocates direct, sustained engagement with the street groups that cause most of South Bend’s crime.
“We know who they are,” says Officer Lane, stressing that these are loosely organized groups, as opposed to gangs. “We have them come to our department, sit them down, and say, ‘We know you are involved and this needs to stop now. If you need help to get out of the group, we will help you.’”
The team, which includes social services, mental health, and addiction prevention providers, meets face-to-face with these groups to deliver the following message: The violence has to stop, help is available, and any future violence will be met with certain consequences. At some meetings, this message is driven home by neighborhood “influencers,” previous group members who have seen the light and talk to these young people.
And it appears to be working. According to Officer Lane, gun violence associated with these groups has gone down since the SBPD adopted the SBGVI program approximately seven years ago.
The work of the SBGVI teams is reinforced by Custom Notifications, which are messages sent by the SBPD directly to group members, providing individualized information about their legal risk and offering resources for help.
“If we get information that somebody is involved in violence, we deliver a notification to them. It’s a quick summary of what happened, saying ‘We believe you were part of this.’ It also says ‘We can help you get out of the group, and here are resources and people to call. Otherwise, we will be watching you.’”
Another SBPD program that complements the work of SBGVI is the Shooting Response Team (SRT). To help the victims of area shootings and bring the perpetrators to justice, the SBPD created a team of dedicated detectives within their criminal investigative unit.
“When somebody is shot, we activate our SRT team, which meets with the victims to offer help and get the story of how the crime happened and who was involved,” says Officer Lane.
In addition to helping the victims, Officer Lane says the SRT also contributes to SBGVI efforts by gathering information about the suspects. What’s more, it is the only team or unit of its kind in seven nearby Michigan and Indiana counties.
The SBPD works to make life in South Bend’s communities more pleasant as well as safer with the Nuisance Abatement Unit, a program which also benefits the department organizationally. According to Officer Lane, who works in this unit, it was created seven years ago when a study showed that about 40 percent of the SBPD’s actual police budget is spent on response to chronic nuisance properties.
These are the buildings, houses, parks, and other locations that SBPD is regularly called to because of drug dealing, fights, barking dogs, liquor violations, or other problems. Officer Lane works with building owners and managers to get the problems resolved so the department doesn’t have to continually send officers out.
“Since we started the unit, it has either reduced or eliminated calls to approximately 90 percent of properties that come on our radar,” he says. “And in the process of clearing up the problems, we create good relationships with owners, managers, and the people who live around the properties. So, we now have people call and say they heard there is a problem at their property, and I should look into it. That would not have happened without creating these relationships.”
As with the SBGVI and the SRT, the goal of the Nuisance Abatement Unit is to improve the quality of life for all residents of South Bend. And like all SBPD events and programs, it depends on collaboration and trusted relationships within the city’s communities.
“Creating those relationships is vital because people who live in their neighborhoods know what is going on. Even officers who patrol [the neighborhoods] don’t know what those who live there [know],” says Officer Lane. “The more information you get and the more you partner, the easier it is to make the area safe,” he adds.
This approach, which SBPD Chief Scott Ruszkowski describes as “relationship policing,” characterizes all the department’s public safety practices and interactions with the local community, from meeting with members of violent groups to helping a little boy get his Halloween candy. As demonstrated by Officer Burns, the SBPD will try to go out of its way to serve every member of the community.
Faye C. Elkins
Sr. Technical Writer
Photos courtesy of the South Bend (Indiana) Police Department.
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