Mayoral hopefuls share safety plans

October 18, 2011

By Kevin Allen, The South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND - Making sure residents are safe in their homes and neighborhoods is perhaps the most-basic function of city government.

The candidates running to be South Bend’s next mayor understand that.

The three men - Democrat Pete Buttigieg, Republican Wayne Curry and Libertarian Patrick Farrell - also say the solutions to improving public safety extend beyond managing the police and fire departments to include neighborhood revitalization and addressing the problem of vacant buildings.

Buttigieg said the city needs the best law-enforcement tools and tactics it can have, but resources alone won’t solve crime problems.

“We need to have up-to-date strategies, make the most of community-oriented policing, make the most of what’s called intelligence-led policing, create opportunities for police officers to get to know the areas they patrol intimately,” he said.

“There is, I think, a need for greater trust between residents in troubled neighborhoods and police officers who patrol them,” he continued. “If residents don’t feel safe speaking to police, then we miss out on an opportunity to prevent crimes rather than respond to them. We can’t always just be responding to crimes.”

Curry said he would adopt a program called Focus on Four that has been used to reduce crime in Tampa, Fla. The strategy would involve dividing the city into sections, each with its own chief, and targeting low-end crimes such as burglaries.

“In reducing those smaller crimes, you actually reduce the violent crimes as well,” he said, “because usually the folks out there committing the smaller crimes are committing the violent crimes, too.”

Curry said he also would find ways to take police officers away from desk work to place them on more street patrols.

Farrell said he would increase police patrols around schools to deter drivers from speeding in those areas and protect children from other dangers.

He also said the police department should find ways to take officers away from desk work and put them on the streets, especially for the purpose of making residents more comfortable talking to officers about crimes in their neighborhoods.

“I think a lot of time should be spent with these people, reassuring them that they have a voice,” he said. “I’m going to empower them to tell that police officer that this person is doing something inappropriate.

“Don’t fear the repercussion,” he said. “Get involved with the police; the police will get involved with you.”

Buttigieg, a former business consultant, said economics also factors into public safety.

“If we can tackle vacant and abandoned houses, we will see an impact in the crime rate,” he said. “If we can provide more meaningful job opportunities, we’ll see an impact in the crime rate.”

Curry said he understands what it’s like to live in a bad neighborhood. He talks often about his work to improve his own neighborhood, the Triangle area east of Eddy Street and north of South Bend Avenue.

“I’ve worked with the police department to clean up the criminal aspect of our neighborhoods,” he said. “I’ve engaged in the neighborhoods for 20 years, and I know what it takes to fix them and turn them around.”

Curry said the city has millions of dollars available to buy property and turn it over to private developers near downtown. That money, he said, should be spent to demolish vacant houses, and fix streets and sidewalks.

“I believe the money is there,” he said. “You just have to want to make it available for those things you prioritize.”

The city also needs to be tougher, he said, when it comes to code enforcement in neighborhoods where abandoned homes are plentiful.

Farrell said the city shouldn’t just tear down vacant houses. Officials should make greater efforts to restore those structures.

“I just want to see that everybody really has a fair shake in their living conditions,” he said.