South Bend council to address gun violence, police relations in next budget

By Jeff Parrott | South Bend Tribune
Photo courtesy South Bend Tribune
July 5, 2019

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SOUTH BEND — In the wake of the recent Eric Logan and Kelly’s Pub fatal shootings, South Bend common council members say they’ll look for ways to prevent gun violence and improve community-police relations as they soon start work on next year’s budget.

Council members held a press conference in the County-City Building lobby Wednesday, taking turns at the podium to share their thoughts about the recent incidents, including the June 23 shootings outside Kelly’s Pub that killed one person and injured several others.

They focused their remarks broadly on violence and specifically on the June 16 shooting of Logan by police Sgt. Ryan O’Neill.

Council President Tim Scott, D-1st, said residents shouldn’t necessarily expect the council to react to the recent incidents by proposing new laws, but it likely will boost spending on existing programs that seem to be working, such as the long-running Police Athletic League and Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s adoption of the Group Violence Intervention.

One new initiative that Scott said intrigues him is Peacemaker Fellowship, which has been credited with helping reduce gun violence in Oakland, Calif. Scott said he, council member Karen White, D-At large, and council member Sharon McBride, D-3rd, last week attended a local presentation on the program.

Peacemaker Fellowship identifies a small group of young men that are at the center of retaliatory gun violence in a city and provides them with an array of services, including mentoring, internship and work opportunities.

“This is something that I think can truly help our city,” Scott said.

After the press conference, Scott said the program, if approved, would likely be included in the mayor’s office budget. He said he has discussed it recently with Buttigieg and “it’s something he’s interested in.”

While noting the estimates are tentative, Scott said the program might cost $2.4 million over eight years, with the cost split between the city tax dollars and federal grants.

Mark Bode, the mayor’s spokesman, said in a written statement the administration is “very interested to learn more about the program.”

All council members except Gavin Ferlic, D-At large, attended the press conference. When it came to the Logan shooting, council member John Voorde, D-At large, expressed support for police while council members Regina Williams-Preston, D-2nd and Oliver Davis, D-6th, called for police reforms.

“I’m here for one purpose today and that’s to show some support, some appreciation and gratitude for the South Bend Police Department,” Voorde said. “They’re placed in a very difficult position so often on a daily basis and I think sometimes we overlook the good work they do. They’ve been kind of castigated the past couple of weeks for a lot of supposed wrongs.”

Since the June 16 shooting, Williams-Preston said, “numerous” residents have contacted her to express their concerns.

“In spite of all the great work happening in ongoing workshops and training for the South Bend Police Department, recent events have renewed concern about the need for culturally competent community policing,” she said.

Davis thanked police for their service but stressed that in 2014 the council passed a resolution urging the police department to buy body cameras, hire more minority officers and establish a citizen review board for police conduct. O’Neill did not have his body camera on during his confrontation with Logan.

“The reason why we so encouraged the use of body cameras was to protect, one, the police officers, two, the citizens,” Davis said. “If that had been followed, we probably wouldn’t be here today.”

Council member Jake Teshka, R-5th, called for two things to reduce violence: More engagement with the South Bend Community School Corp., and more police on the streets.

“The easiest way to diffuse some of this tension is to make sure that we are having officers that are not overworked, not over-stressed, and have the time to get out in the community and make those connections and build those relationships,” Teshka said. “Our officers have done a lot of great things over the last couple of years … and it’s a couple of weeks like this that threaten to undercut that.”

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St. Joseph County Prosecutor Ken Cotter (photo: South Bend Tribune)Faith in St. Joseph County Peacemaker Summit, Oct. 7, 2019