Mayoral Candidates Debate Stats

By Erin Blasko, The South Bend Tribune

March 27, 2015

SOUTH BEND — Democratic mayoral candidate Henry Davis Jr. accused Mayor Pete Buttigieg on Friday of using “creative statistics” to mask an uptick in violent crime in the community.

The mayor, in response, accused Davis of politicizing the issue without offering any real solutions.

The two will square off for the Democratic nomination in May.

Davis’ comments followed a police luncheon Thursday at which Buttigieg told assembled officers and others that overall crime in the city was at its lowest point in 20 years.

That’s based on 2012 Uniform Crime Reporting data, the most recent available.

In a statement Friday — and in subsequent comments to The Tribune — Davis disputed the data and accused the mayor of being insensitive to the victims of violent crime in the community.

“I just want to hear honest numbers from the city administration,” Davis said. “In the last 24 hours South Bend has had three shootings, resulting in one confirmed homicide. The city’s murder rate has doubled while the mayor uses his creative statistics to say crime is at a 20-year low.”

Davis later told The Tribune that “for us to talk about crime being at an all-time low while people are experiencing these violent acts … sends the wrong signal and sends the wrong message.”

“People need to stop shooting and killing people,” he said. “The message should be we’re going to work harder to put more officers on the street … improve the poverty rate, that people have more opportunities to (invest in) the community.”

Asked if he meant to contend that the mayor is manipulating the crime numbers, Davis said, “I’m not going to argue with stats, because stats can be proven to say whatever you want them to say … That’s just how the stat game works out.”

According to the city’s own data, crime fell by 2 percent last year compared with the previous year thanks in part to an overall drop in non-violent crime, particularly burglaries and robberies.

At the same time, the number of homicides nearly doubled — despite efforts on the part of the administration to confront gun violence in the form of a new Group Violence Intervention strategy.

Developed by David Kennedy, a professor of criminology at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, the strategy offers perpetrators of gun violence a clear choice: Stop shooting and accept help or face the full force of the law.

The mayor credits the strategy with helping to reduce gun violence last year even as violent crime ticked up overall, and with the fact that none of the three homicides so far this year has been linked to gangs.

While not opposed to the strategy, Davis said it is insufficient in scope to address the problem of violence in the community, which is not limited to a few individuals with gang affiliations.

“The gang violence intervention probably does work for just those 30 people, however, crime is running rampant in South Bend, so the focus shouldn’t just be on those 30 people,” Davis said.

Davis said he would expand the program if elected, put more officers on the street, open police substations in high-crime areas and replace police Chief Ron Teachman with someone from within the department.

Teachman, who comes from Connecticut, does not have the respect or confidence of his subordinates, Davis said, contributing to a crisis in morale that threatens to harm public safety.

“That’s coming directly from” the officers, Davis said. “They don’t like Teachman.”

Buttigieg, in response, accused Davis of inserting politics into the situation without offering any real solutions.

“Politicizing homicides does not stop one shooting and does not make our city safer,” the mayor said Friday, noting the crime statistics that show a drop in crime come from the FBI.

He also accused Davis of ignoring the positive effect of the group violence strategy, which despite a recent increase in the number of homicides, has resulted in a 39 percent drop in the total number of people injured or killed in criminal shootings.

“I think it’s insensitive to the lives we’ve saved to ignore the things we’ve done to bring crime down,” he said.

Of the claim that morale in the police department is down because of the chief, it’s more complicated than that, the mayor said.

“Officer morale is a factor of a number of things, and we need to continue to work on that,” he said. “But a lot of work has been done to ensure our officers have a good work environment.”

“I have confidence in the work of our police chief,” he added. “And I think the most important thing is our results, and we’re continuing to get safer year by year in this city.”

He dismissed the idea of opening police substations in high-crime areas or simply hiring more officers as way to further improve public safety.

“We’ve experimented with substations and we’ve found that they’re not the most effective way to reduce crime,” he said. “And this goes far beyond just how many officers are out there … Unfortunately it’s not as simple as that. I wish it were.

He said if Davis has any other suggestions, he’s welcome to share them.

“If he has a specific idea he should propose it," he said, "so we can debate it on its merits."