Problems started with the 2014 event, when safety issues at seven South Bend intersections were reported by riders and volunteers, according to a news release from Bike the Bend. While organizers have always reimbursed the city for its services, they withheld about $2,523.18 out of the $10,890.30 bill — the amount charged for safety patrols at those seven intersections.
Though Mayor Pete Buttigieg organized two meetings between Bike the Bend and the police, tensions did not dissolve. Shortly before the event this year, organizers said they found out the South Bend Fraternal Order of Police had “recommended to its members that they not sign up for special duty for Bike the Bend.”
That discovery was contrary to public statements made during a news conference by the South Bend Police Department Chief Ron Teachman, who said his officers were “worn out,” from signing up for so many other off-duty events in South Bend, including the city’s 150th anniversary. The number of events increased from 73 in 2012 to a projected 305 this year, Teachman said at the time.
“It appears to us that a campaign was orchestrated by the FOP to punish Bike the Bend for having the temerity to criticize a few officers,” the release stated.
As of three days before the event on June 14, only three South Bend public safety personnel had signed up for special duty, the release stated. However, a handful of other officers from Mishawaka, St. Joseph County and Notre Dame signed up.
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”Community safety and support means everything to the success of events like Bike the Bend,“ the release said. ”Because Bike the Bend cannot risk a threat to our riders’ safety, we are announcing today with great sadness that we will not be doing another Bike the Bend for our community.“
However, the FOP issued a statement saying that event organizers were well aware early on that officers may not be available to work the event exactly as organizers planned.
During the planning stages, officers suggested that the event should continue to be held in May or be moved to the fall because of the planned SB150 celebration weekend, according to a statement from Dan Demler, FOP president. Police also suggested that the organizers alter the route to include more bike paths and allow some limited vehicle traffic while increasing rider safety.
The event organizers responded by making a minimal change in the route, Demler said.
Officers also told event organizers in the planning stages that they may not be able to fully staff the event because the Bike the Bend plans called for 50 officers, Demler said, which is 20 percent of the South Bend Police Department’s work force. Demler said that Teachman was correct in saying that not all special events could be staffed by police officers.
The FOP told South Bend officers that the event was voluntary overtime after confirming that with the organization’s attorney that staffing such an event is not considered a work stoppage or job action, he said.
”It’s a matter of choosing personal time over an extra shift,” Demler said. “Whether or not to work the 2015 Bike the Bend remained a voluntary, individual decision for officers, as it is for all special events.”
Even so, Demler confirmed that there was some resistance after Bike the Bend didn’t fully compensate officers for the time they worked the 2014 ride.
“Even if one is unhappy with the level of service, when an agreement is made and an employee shows up and performs his or her duties, one cannot decide to withhold compensation,” Demler said. “In the planning stages, police officers serve as partners with organizers, not their employees, offering our expertise in promoting public safety to help make an event a success.”
Mayor Pete Buttigieg made a statement in response to the Bike the Bend cancellation Thursday afternoon.
”South Bend has welcomed Bike the Bend for the past six years. Unfortunately the event organizers were not able to come to terms with the police officers they asked to take part in the event going forward,“ he said. ”We’re disappointed that it will not continue, and thank the organizers, sponsors, officers and volunteers for the successful past events. South Bend is proud to be a nationally recognized Bicycle Friendly Community, and will continue to work with the cycling community on future events and ways to make South Bend an even better place to ride.”