South Bend may limit 'free' 911 calls for police

People who dial 911 in South Bend could be charged a $250 fee if they do it too much.

So what is ‘too much?’

Some are quick to point to the situation last year at the Courtyard Place Apartments at Jefferson Blvd. and 26th Street. In 2012, police were called to the complex a total of 526 times—that’s an average of 43 times a month. The Courtyard calls carried an estimated cost to taxpayers of $131,000.

“There is an issue of landlords are, you know, they’re collecting the rent, they have people move in and they’re not really responsible for their tenants and the actions of their tenants,” said South Bend Common Council Rep. Tim Scott, (D) First District. “All too often, we use our police department as basically property management.”

Scott has filed a proposed ordinance before the council that would place a limit on the number of emergency calls that could be made ‘for free.’
“Basically says if you have five calls to the police department that are not related to safety or emergency or crime, that are just kind of nuisance calls, if you have five of those within 60 days you could potentially go on a chronic nuisance list,” said Councilman Scott. “It allows the city to come back and say, ‘hey, our taxpayer dollars aren’t going to manage your property.”

If someone on that ‘list’ called police again, the city could send a bill of $250 to cover the cost of the response.

Councilman Scott says the measure is designed to punish only those who summon the police for nuisance type things like, “arguments, loud music, whatever.”

As written, the ordinance simply states that calls won’t be counted against someone when the occupant of the property is the victim of a crime.

“So if you look at the fire department you pull a fire alarm and there’s no fire, there is a penalty to that, there really isn’t on the police side,” said Councilman Scott.

While making too many calls to the police department is bad, some argue there is one thing that’s worse—making too few calls to the cops. “So there needs to be a lot of education out there on what this actually means so that people don’t resort to enforcing the law themselves, don’t feel guilty about calling the police,” said Attorney Peter J. Agostino. “I think having police available to intervene in civil matters from time to time helps keep things at a peaceful level instead of escalating into some kind of violence.”

The measure is on track for a public hearing and final vote at the council meeting slated for March 25th.

The Chronic Problem Property Ordinance also makes code enforcement compliance letters part of the equation. For instance, a property that receives five compliance letters in 60 days could be classified as a Chronic Problem Property, as could a property that received a combination of letters and “valid” 911 calls that totaled five.

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