Metro Homicide, SVU disbanding as SBPD, St. Joseph County Police pull out

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(Photo supplied/ABC 57)

A major change as, beginning in January, the South Bend Police Department will take over homicide and all major crimes investigations within South Bend city limits from the St. Joseph County Metro Homicide Unit and Special Victims Unit.

The change was announced on Thursday, Sep. 2. Since then, St. Joseph County Sheriff Bill Redman announced his deputies and officers would begin handling their own homicide, domestic and crimes against children cases. Mishawaka Police Chief Ken Witkowski also issued a statement saying he was disappointed in the dismantling of Metro Homicide and the SVU, but that he was confident in the Mishawaka Police Department to continue to provide professional service.

South Bend Police Chief Scott Ruszkowski says all cases with the city limits will stay ‘in-house’ using the resources of the entire police department.

South Bend Mayor James Mueller says the move is necessary to adapt to the department’s staffing levels, which, he says, remain short of where they need to be.

South Bend currently has 220 sworn officers, 23 short of being fully staffed, and faces several expected retirements at the beginning of next year.

The City of South Bend’s complete statement:

Today, the City of South Bend announced that effective Jan. 1, 2022, the South Bend Police Department will take over homicide and all major crimes investigations within South Bend city limits from the St. Joseph County Metro Homicide Unit and Special Victims Unit.

“We value regional collaboration and the work provided by these two metro units. We’ve done everything we can to keep them up and running, but we must adapt to our department’s staffing levels, which remain short of where they need to be,” said Mayor James Mueller. “This move will create greater staffing flexibility in 2022 and enable us to continue delivering critical law enforcement services for our residents. I have full confidence in our officers, and we will work with our partners in the County and Mishawaka to ensure a smooth transition. Our department will continue to collaborate with the St. Joseph County Prosecutor, St. Joseph County Police Department and Mishawaka Police Department.”

“The South Bend Police Department’s commitment to our community will remain the same and will not be negatively affected by this transition,” said Police Chief Scott Ruszkowski. “The majority of the St. Joseph County Metro Homicide Unit and Special Victims Unit are made up of our detectives and personnel already. All cases will now be ‘in-house’ and the resources of our entire department will be at the disposal of every single victim and their family.

With the combined experience of our detectives, our continued alliance with the Family Justice and CASIE Centers, the YWCA, and our commitment to handling every single case with the utmost respect and professionalism, we are confident this will be a seamless transition.”

Background:

In accordance with the interlocal agreement, the City of South Bend provided notice to the St. Joseph County Prosecutor’s Office in May that the South Bend Police Department (SBPD) would need greater staffing flexibility in 2022 due to projected officer retirements.

Over the last few years, SBPD has had ongoing conversations with the prosecutor’s office about staffing shortages that would force us to reduce the number of sworn officers in the Metro units. Prior to these conversations, concessions were made reducing the number of officers from 11 to 8 due to staffing shortages within the department. SBPD continued to contribute to this partnership by providing funding for 3 positions within Metro Homicide and SVU. The City of South Bend and St. Joseph County Prosecutor’s Office were unable to reach an agreement to further modify staffing within the units.

SBPD needs more officers. SBPD currently has 220 sworn officers, 23 short of being fully staffed, and faces several expected retirements at the beginning of 2022.

If you know someone interested in joining the city team and serving our community as a sworn officer, please encourage them to apply at police.southbendin.gov/apply.

St. Joseph County Prosecutor Ken Cotter’s statement:

Through the County’s two multidisciplinary units, the South Bend Police Department, the Mishawaka Police Department, and the St. Joseph County Police Department have combined sworn investigators with the St. Joseph County Prosecutor’s office to investigate some of the most serious crimes in our community (since 1993 at the St. Joseph County Metro Homicide Unit (CMHU) and since 2003 at the St. Joseph County Special Victims Unit (SVU)).

Those crimes include homicides (investigated by the CMHU), and sexual assaults, molestation of children, physical child abuse, and domestic violence (investigated by the SVU).

Currently, there are 12 individuals assigned to the CMHU: 4 from the SBPD (1 paid for by the SBPD but hired by the Prosecutor’s office), 3 from the SJCPD, 1 from the MPD and 4 from the Prosecutor’s office (commander, 2 assistant commanders and a secretary).

As well, there are 12 individuals assigned to the SVU investigative wing: 7 from the SBPD (2 paid for by the SBPD but hired by the Prosecutor’s office), 2 from the SJCPD, 2 from the MPD and 1 from the Prosecutor’s office (commander).

Together, there are 24 individuals assigned to investigate homicides, sexual assaults, child abuse (physical and sexual) and domestic violence:

The SBPD currently pays for 11 positions;
8 sworn officers (33.3%);
3 investigators paid for by the SBPD but hired by the Prosecutor’s Office (12.5%);

The SJCPD supplies 5 sworn officers (20.8%);

The MPD supplies 3 sworn officers (12.5%);

The Prosecutor’s Office fills 5 other positions (2 Commanders, 2 Assistant Commanders and 1 secretary) (20.8%).

Additionally, the Prosecutor’s office wing at the SVU (within the CASIE Center) consists of 5 deputy prosecutors, 3 paralegals, 2 secretaries and 5 victim advocates.

Working within this multidisciplinary framework, despite working these exhausting and heart wrenching cases, these two units have been some of the most successful investigative units in the country, both in holding the perpetrators accountable and getting justice for our victims.

I am proud to be associated with the work they have done for our community.

Earlier this year, the SBPD advised me that they would no longer be able to staff those units with their 8 sworn officers. For the past several weeks, we (the SBPD and the Prosecutor’s office) have attempted to find ways to continue to work together within those units and adequately staff them.

We have been faced with challenges like this in the past where departments have had issues filling vacant positions within those units. However, in those instances, the departments eventually were able to do so, ensuring that those most horrific crimes were consistently and competently investigated.

In this instance, however, the SBPD (yesterday) advised that for the year 2022, the South Bend Police Department would not be able to staff those units with the 8 sworn officers. It is untenable and unsustainable for the officers who do the work in those units to do it without adequate manpower.

With SBPD’s inability to commit to the 8 sworn officers, we cannot provide the work these cases and our victims deserve. Therefore, I was advised that the SBPD will withdraw from the SVU and the CMHU for 2022.

While I am hopeful that the SBPD will somehow be able to find a way to adequately staff the CMHU and the SVU, I am saddened that out of a department of over 200 sworn officers, the City of South Bend will not remain within the multidisciplinary framework and assign 8 sworn officers to investigate homicides, sexual child abuse, physical child abuse, rapes, sexual assaults, and serious domestic violence cases.

Regardless, I am committed to the concept of a multidisciplinary framework and will
continue to join with the CASIE Center, the Family Justice Center, the YWCA, other concerned entities, and law enforcement in seeking justice for our victims.

Statement from St. Joseph County Sheriff Bill Redman:

On the evening of Wednesday, September 1, 2021 I received an email from Prosecutor Ken Cotter advising me that a decision had been made by the South Bend Police Department (SBPD) to reassign their officers from both the Metro Homicide Unit (MHU) and the Special Victims Unit (SVU). This was followed up by a telephone call from Prosecutor Cotter confirming the email.

Prior to this announcement, my administration and I had several meetings and discussions about the possibility of this change with the SBPD, Mishawaka PD and Prosecutor Cotter.

During these discussions, my administration and I began to plan for the possibility of taking over our own homicide investigations, domestic violence and crimes against children investigations.

On the morning of Thursday, September 2, 2021 we met with our department investigators (3 MHU and 1 SVU) from each of these two units and our detective bureau commander to discuss their transition into our detective bureau.

Each of these veteran investigators are experienced and very capable of investigating and following through with criminal charges of anyone committing any of the above mentioned criminal acts. And most importantly, being the voices to the victims.

This transition will take time and adjustments will be made but I want to reassure the citizens of St. Joseph County that we are all dedicated to the safety and security of our community.

Lastly, I looked at our homicides that occurred in our jurisdiction for the past ten years dating back to 2011.  Our department has averaged. 2.1 homicides each year.

We also have several detectives with SVU experience to assist in those investigations. We also developed a domestic violence team (with DOJ grant) to assist with victims of these DV offenses.

Our work and partnerships will also continue with the Family Justice Center, the YWCA and with the CASIE Center.

Mishawaka Police Chief Ken Witkowski’s statement:

It has been brought to my attention that there will be changes made regarding the Mishawaka Police Department’s participation with the Metro Homicide Unit and Special Victims Unit that is currently under the direction of the St. Joseph County Prosecutor’s office. 

I have always supported the collaborated efforts of all three law enforcement agencies that made up these two Units. I would also like to thank those officers in these perspective Units for their exceptional service and dedication to the people of St. Joseph County.

Although I am disappointed with the dismantling of these two specialty units, I am confident in the ability of the MPD to continue to provide professional service to the community of Mishawaka. I can assure you the officers of the MPD will provide a smooth transition and continue to build upon relationships between the YWCA, Family Justice and CASIE Centers.

 

3 COMMENTS

  1. ?? Question It seems that the City of South Bend has more murders / violent crimes than Saint Joseph County It seems from the article, that South Bend Police ONLY will now investigate all these crimes ALONE? without the help of the County and Mishawaka? This seems that less resources will be available to find the felons that harm folks in South bend, and the Prosecutor will not have either a suspect, not enough evidence to convict? Am I reading this wrong?

    • Smart money says that the County and Mishawaka would not play nice with the “equitable policing” policies favored by the leftists, such as the ones in charge of South Bend.

      Over the next few years, it will be VERY easy to tell if my hunch is correct as the violent crime spirals out of control and investigations are shallow and superfluous.

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