As Mayor Pete Buttigieg was hitting the presidential campaign trail in Iowa last weekend, back home in South Bend, Ind., the city was plagued by a spate of shootings – with police officers warning of plummeting morale and a worsening situation on the ground.
“It’s crazy, it’s like the Wild West out there,” South Bend Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) President Harvey Mills told Fox News in an interview Tuesday, suggesting criminals are taking advantage of a demoralized and short-staffed police department.
Three people were shot early Sunday on the west side of the city, in what was described as a “very large crime scene.” Police said more than 67 shots were fired by multiple shooters. WNDU reported that two men suffered a chest and an arm injury, respectively, and were taken to the hospital. Another man later walked into the hospital with a hand injury.
That shooting was one of a slew of such incidents. Between late Saturday and early Sunday, there were nine other reports of shots being fired, with more than 119 shots fired that night alone. On Tuesday, WNDU reported two additional shootings overnight – with one person shot at an apartment block.
A spokesman for the South Bend Police Department confirmed to Fox News that four people were shot on Sunday, and two people were shot on Monday.
“The Department is continuing to investigate and address matters related to these incidents. We are counting on our community to come forward and help us curb any violence in our streets,” spokesman Ken Garcia said in a statement. “We encourage anyone with information to come forward. Remember: if you see something, say something.”
Buttigieg condemned the shootings and said public safety remains a “top priority” for his administration.
“There is no place for violence in South Bend, and every shooting here is a tragedy. I urge anyone with information on these shootings to contact law enforcement so we can prevent the next incident,” he said in a statement to Fox News. “Public safety remains a top priority for us, and the Group Violence Intervention will continue to be our leading program. We are also exploring further approaches as we prepare the 2020 budget.”
“As officers continue to build community trust, it is vital that residents share what they know so we can stop the cycle of violence,” he added.
A spokesman for the mayor’s office added that it has regular meetings with the FOP “to discuss their concerns and find a mutual path forward.”
The gun violence comes amid a growing crisis over crime and policing dogging the 37-year-old mayor even as he has surged from little-known outsider to one of the top candidates in the packed race for the Democratic presidential nomination.
Already strained relations between the mayor and police snapped last month over Buttigieg’s response to an officer-involved shooting of a black man, after which Buttigieg angered officers by faulting the “shadow of systemic racism.”
At the same time, he came under fire from black residents who argued he has not done enough to reform the police department. He also brushed off criticism at a primary debate from then-Democratic candidate Eric Swalwell, who urged him to “fire the chief.” Instead, Buttigieg said there would be an investigation and “accountability for the officer” and subsequently gave Swalwell what was described as a “death glare.”
But, while Buttigieg has held his ground in the face of some of the fiercest criticism of his police force, multiple officers told Fox News they do not believe his administration has their backs — warning of low morale and a “mass exodus” from the force.
Mills told Fox News that the force was budgeted for 264 officers before Buttigieg took office — but now the force is only budgeted for 240 officers and only has 220 trained and working. Exacerbating that shortage, he said, is concern among police officers that any complaint could lead to their suspension and firing.
“With morale the way it is, they’re definitely doing less because they’re afraid of being disciplined,” he said.
He went on to say that the FOP has made a number of suggestions to the administration on how to boost morale and public communication, but none of them have been acted upon.
“I think we need a leader here in our community that stands up for his police and puts public safety number one,” he said.
Buttigieg, meanwhile, has been focusing on the broader problem of gun violence in the U.S. in the wake of recent mass shootings in Ohio and Texas. In Des Moines, Iowa, on Saturday he questioned if there would be fewer police shootings if there weren’t so many guns in the U.S.
“We’ve got to ask ourselves, if we lived in a country where everybody wasn’t armed, would officers be so quick to reach for the gun in the first place?” he said, according to The Washington Examiner.