South Bend, Indiana, has seen a dramatic increase in violent crime since Mayor Pete Buttigieg took office 2012, raising doubts about his ability to govern the city of 100,000.
Despite multiple promises and data-driven solutions from Buttigieg, a comprehensive look at South Bend's official crime data reveals a systemic problem throughout his tenure. Data submitted by the South Bend police department to the FBI's Uniform Crime Reporting system are available through 2017; figures on 2018 and the first four months of 2019 were released in the public minutes of the South Bend Board of Public Safety meeting.*
Violent crime has risen year-on-year since Buttigieg took office in 2012. Last year marked the highest rate of violent crime in at least 20 years.
The violent crime rate dropped over the first four months of 2019, but the data do not extend into summer, when violent crime reliably spikes. As South Bend resident and crime analyst Ricky Klee noted, South Bend saw a shooting a day in the first 10 days of June alone. A summer spike would be consistent with South Bend’s recent history: Buttigieg even admitted in his first year of office that the shootings in the summer of 2012 were "unacceptably violent."
"We cannot tolerate another summer like last summer," the mayor said in his 2013 State of the City speech, before proposing an ambitious anti-violence commission. But a year later, that commission—the South Bend Group Violence Intervention—became mired in scandal when an anti-violence counselor pushed his wife to the floor, beat her, and threatened to shoot her, according to police reports.
Speaking of which, a closer look at the data reveals what is driving the violent crime spike: assaults. Rates of homicide and robbery have remained roughly constant; rape rates spiked after Buttigieg's election but now appear on track to reach pre-election figures. But aggravated assault, as Klee noted, has taken off.
The rise in aggravated assaults is likely driven by Buttigieg's failure to encourage "proactive policing," former Common Council president Derek Dieter told the Washington Free Beacon. A former South Bend police officer himself, Dieter said that South Bend's decision under the Buttigieg administration to cut its drug unit and traffic bureau cut down the department's ability to take preventative measures against violent crime.
"Probably 50 percent or more of drug and gun arrests are through traffic stops," Dieter said. "If people know they're not going to get stopped, they know they can get away with it."
In addition, Dieter said the lack of interaction with police officers and the communities they serve outside of criminal confrontations engenders a mutual disrespect between the two groups.
"Take that into consideration, and then there’s no real plan to reach the community," Dieter said of the police department. "That’s why there is a distrust of the police department, because the police really don't know how to do it."
Buttigieg has long faced troubles with his police department, starting with his decision to demote the popular black police chief Darryl Boykins in 2012. The decision stirred racial resentment both within the department and South Bend's black community—Buttigieg described it as his "first serious mistake."
Buttigieg compounded the problem with his decision to hire New England native Ron Teachman as Boykins's replacement. Teachman’s appointment came amid opposition from Common Council and the South Bend community. Once he took over, Teachman faced multiple accusations of racism and a state police investigation after he allegedly failed to help a black police officer break up a fight in 2013.
Buttigieg's problems with the police department burst into the national news when Sgt. Ryan O'Neal, a white police officer, shot and killed Eric Logan, a black man, on June 14. According to O'Neal, Logan had been attempting to rob parked cars. O'Neal’s body camera was not turned on to record the incident, provoking outrage in the black community.
Buttigieg faced further public outcry at a contentious town hall, where many members of the black community accused him of mishandling the police department not only in the Logan shooting, but also in the many previous police-related incidents since 2012.
Buttigieg promised to improve police relations with the community, but according to some South Bend residents, he has not yet shown signs of working to reduce violence in the city.
"Right now the biggest thing is we just don't trust the process," activist Tiana Wardell told the Free Beacon. Buttigieg "needs to show some kind of effort that he's trying to build that back up. In the two weeks since that town hall, really nothing has changed. Nothing that I see."
The mayor's office did not respond to request for comment.
* Data note: offense data from 2019 are imputed from the first four months of the year, multiplied by three. Population for 2018 is from the U.S. Census Bureau’s estimate as of July 2018; population for 2019 is imputed from the linear trend in preceding 20 years of population.