Unfortunately parts of South Bend have come to expect crime with streets too often plagued by guns, drugs and vacant homes.
That however hadn't been the case for the city’s River Park neighborhood until community watch activists began tracking a recent uptick in assaults, thefts and burglaries.
Comparing April and May 2011 to 2012, River Park’s safety committee says assaults, thefts and burglaries increased by 400-percent. Their findings show a further decline so far this June, with crime in the first week surpassing 2011 levels by 620-percent.
"All it takes for crime to flourish and for good people to do nothing. So it's an obligation that we have for ourselves and our neighbors to make the situation better,” longtime River Park resident and safety committee member Phil Niswonger said.
According to the association, the strong working class neighborhood’s plight is two-fold. At the forefront, a recorded spike in vacant home and rental properties, up from 14 to 54-percent since 1991. But with rentals, neighborhood leaders say, comes an increase in drug homes like a duplex along the 2800-block of Mishawaka Ave., which police shut down last year. Following that bust, new tenants moved in and there hasn't been an issue since.
"But in the last 12 weeks, crime has gone up 400%, especially in the area of assaults,” Niswonger added.
In effort to track criminal trends, Niswonger started plotting reported crimes on a map with blue stickers, each dot representing a blow to public safety.
"It might be a television set stolen or it might be a broken nose, but the infringement to their personal freedom, the damage mentally lasts much longer than that, maybe for a lifetime,” Niswonger mentioned.
But there are various signs of stability as River Park is home to the Potawatomi Zoo, the IU South Bend campus and a scenic stretch of the St. Joseph River.
"We need to have all of our citizens rise-up and say, 'hey enough is enough.' The west side somewhat waited too long. Things finally caught their attention, but after much of the damage had been done. We need to wake-up to stop crime and recover River Park the way it used to be,” Niswonger concluded.
The River Park Safety Committee obtains its stats via crimereports.com. Although the program requires registration, the service is totally free and covers most parts of northern Indiana and southwest Michigan. If you'd like to check it out for yourself, just click on the Big Red Bar.