In late June, the South Bend Police Department opened a substation in downtown South Bend.
The idea was to increase police presence downtown.
And, by all accounts, it's been a good idea.
City officials and business owners have long felt safety is not an issue downtown.
However, they contend the safety issue was a matter of perception
So, if changing people's perception was among the goals of the new substation, it appears to be working.
There was actually a practical reason for opening the new downtown police substation.
“We want officers downtown,” said Capt. Phil Trent. “We hire them to patrol downtown. We want them to have a base of operation, a place where they can go, take a rest, get a meal, get some water, cool off and perhaps do some reports if need be and, thus far, it's been very good.”
Trent says the very sight of the substation along South Michigan Street has had a big psychological impact.
He says it's convinced many that downtown is not a risky place to shop, eat or do business.
Although Trent would argue, that was never the case.
“There is a perception that downtown, for some reason, is not safe, even during normal business hours - that's just not true,” added Trent. “We got complaints of aggressive panhandling. etc. and some of those individuals were negatively impacting the downtown. But as far as high end crime downtown, downtown's never been adversely affect by that.”
For big events like the Hall of Fame Enshrinement, First Fridays or Silver Hawks games at the Cove, the number of officers increases.
“At any given time point in time, there are officers either on foot or on bicycles or the t-3 devices downtown,” said Trent. “It allows us to respond to those cases of panhandling or public drunkeness or some quality of life issue much quicker and we've gotten a lot of positive feedback from our downtown business owners.”
Among them, Peg Dalton, long-time owner of Le Peep restaurant who agrees with Trent that crime downtown has been overblown.
“I think it's more perceived that there are problems,” said Dalton.
Still, Dalton has already seen the positive effects of new substation and the increased police presence.
He said there seems to be a more relaxed feeling among the clientele.
“Even those of us who are down here everyday probably feel a bit more relaxed knowing there are policemen right by, on foot, ready to help if there are any issues,” he said.
And Dalton's hope now, along with that of city leaders, is that more people will not only visit downtown, but small business owners like her will now take a chance on downtown South Bend.
The new substation is at 119 South Michigan right across the street from the South Bend Chocolate Café.
It is not open 24/7 and residents are asked to go to the main police station at 701 West Sample if they want to file a police report.
Trent did say, however, he's hopeful the substation will one day be able to be used by downtown business owners for meetings and such.