South Bend, IN – Presidential hopeful and South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg was careful to avoid putting his police department in the national spotlight again during the second round of Democratic Presidential debates after rumors of a planned “mass exodus” of South Bend police officers emerged following his comments about “systematic racism” during the first debate.
“Morale around here has been terrible. We do nothing,” a 20-year veteran of the South Bend Police Department (SBPD) told Fox News.
“We call ourselves firemen, we sit around in parking lots until we’re called and then we go to the call, because if you say or do something wrong, then you get hung,” he said.
Another officer said the mayor’s criticism of his department had been “demoralizing” and made it “hard to come to work lately.”
What to do about the problem has become a hot topic among officers.
“That's the big discussion... is who's staying and who's going. I think you’re going to see a mass exodus, our administration is a joke,” an officer told FOX News.
The South Bend Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) called out Buttigieg’s remarks after the first debate and asked the mayor to recuse himself from all decisions related to the investigation of the June 16 fatal shooting of 54-year-old Eric Logan.
The controversial incident occurred at about 3:30 a.m. on June 16 when South Bend Police Sergeant Ryan O’Neill responded to a call about a man breaking into cars at an apartment complex, according to the press release.
Sgt. O’Neill encountered a man whose legs were sticking out of his car and stopped to talk to him and find out if he was the owner of the car.
When Logan stood up, Sgt. O’Neill saw that the man’s hand was bleeding and he had a woman’s purse tucked under his clothing, according to the FOP.
Sgt. O’Neill asked Logan about the purse and the six-foot-two-inch suspect raised an eight-inch knife over his head and started moving toward him.
The sergeant backed up and ordered Logan to drop the knife three times, but Logan continued walking toward him until the officer had no more room to retreat, the press release said.
That’s when Sgt. O’Neill fired his weapon twice – just at the exact moment that Logan threw the knife at him.
Logan was hit once. The FOP said the sergeant sustained minor injuries to his forearm from the knife attack.
After he was shot, Logan remained standing but refused to answer Sgt. O’Neill’s questions as to whether he had been hit, the press release said.
South Bend police transported Logan to the hospital in a police car rather than delaying treatment to wait for an ambulance. He died at the hospital.
In the days that followed the incident, community activists gathered at the South Bend Police Department to protest the incident and marched to the County City Building to demand that city officials fire Sgt. O’Neill, WBND reported.
Despite the fact the investigation is ongoing, Sgt. O’Neill resigned effective immediately on July 15.
The FOP blamed the move on stress, the lawsuit filed by Logan’s family, and national media attention on the shooting that had generated numerous threats against the officer and his family, the South Bend Tribune reported.
The sergeant and his wife have three small children, including a newborn baby.
South Bend Police Chief Scott Ruszkowski confirmed he had received Sgt. O’Neill’s resignation but refused to comment on it, the South Bend Tribune reported.
“Sgt. O’Neill did his job and was forced to defend his own life from a convicted felon who was armed with an eight-inch hunting knife,” FOP President Harvey Mills said in a press release. “We’re confident that the investigation into the shooting will determine that the action he took was justified based on the law and his training.”
“These fights are just too much for Sgt. O’Neill and his family to undertake right now,” Mills said in the release.
The mayor has claimed that he’s not taken a side in the Logan shooting but his remarks on the debate stage in June told a different story.
He described the incident as “a black man... killed by a white officer” and said he “could walk through all of the steps we took, from bias training to de-escalation, but it didn’t save the life of Eric Logan. And when I look into his mother’s eyes, I have to face that fact and nothing that I say will bring him back,” FOX News reported.
“Until we move policing out from the shadow of systemic racism, whatever this particular incident teaches us, we will be left with the bigger problem of the fact that there is a wall of mistrust, put up one racist act at a time, not just what’s happened in the past, but from what’s happening around the country in the present,” the Presidential candidate said.
As a result, upset officers have been talking about leaving the South Bend Police Department en masse.
“To me, it’s like he kind of convicted Sgt. O’Neill before anything was even out, making comments like that,” an officer told FOX News. “It wasn’t based on the facts of what happened, because we don’t even have all the facts of what happened.”
“It’s like pouring gas on the fire,” he said.
Numerous officers told FOX News they’re considering resigning or taking retirement in the wake of the mayor’s comments about their department.
"I feel like we're guilty until proven innocent," an officer said.
Another officer said that Buttigieg’s remarks were making recruitment nearly impossible for the beleaguered 240-officer South Bend Police Department, who will need to hire a lot of officers to replace those planning to leave.
“When you see the politics and the way police officers are treated by the media and by politicians, it’s like, why would anyone want to sign up to do this job right now?” he asked.
The FOP President strongly urged the mayor, who does not attend fallen officer memorial services, to back his police department and stop the exodus, FOX News reported.
"We have 240 officers that really need that support when every call we go to is already weighing on our minds and it’s a lot of stress and they don’t need the additional stress knowing the city administration doesn’t support them," Mills said.
Some officers have said they do not think the relationship between Buttigieg and his police department is fixable, and joked about getting “WWPD” bracelets to remind them to think about “What Would Pete Do?” before they respond to emergency calls, FOX News reported.
Mills said the current environment was dangerous for officers and might cause them to hesitate at a critical moment.
“They are less likely to defend themselves, and that scares me because we've got 15 officers on our memorial wall and I certainly don’t want to add a 16th,” the FOP president said.