From the streets to our schools; Juvenile crime in South Bend

Updated: Nov. 15, 2022 at 6:00 PM EST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (WNDU) - Over the past three years, the City of South Bend has averaged about 930 incidents per year involving a firearm alone. What you may not know, is the number of times the suspect in those cases was identified as a juvenile.

Christine Karsten takes a closer look at that behavior to find out if its leaking into our school system and what is being done about it.

On August 17, the first day of school for South Bend, a juvenile was taken into custody in connection to shots being fired shortly after South Bend students got off a school bus at Huey and Bulla.

Then, on September 20, a juvenile was detained in connection to a shot being fired inside a South Bend School bus in the 400 block of Teri Street.

And just two days later, on September 22, a juvenile was arrested following a firearm being found inside a backpack at Washington High School.

We know no school district is perfect, but when you have three incidents like these, within the first 5 weeks of school, we had to ask some questions.

“This is really a community major issue that we need to attack from a community standpoint,” says Brandon White. White is the Assistant Superintendent of Academics for the South Bend Community School Corporation.If we can educate our students about the negative impacts it has on their families and our community when violence does happen because of weapons, that’s when I think we can truly move the needle to make our community a safer place.”

White says South Bend schools are constantly working with their students to deter them from making bad decisions that center around things like firearms.

“And part of that is giving a voice to our students,” adds White.

In addition, they have invested in software that allows them to monitor emails or messaging done on school devices, they have school resource officers, counselors in every school, they work with consultants on school safety, the list goes on.

“I don’t think this will be a job that is ever done, nor should it be,” says White.

But is it working? According to the South Bend Community School Corporation, over the last four years 237 weapons were found in South Bend schools. Five of them were handguns.

So far this year, 18 weapons have been found. Three of them were firearms

“Imagine how many are in the hands outside our schools. So, that also impacts us,” says White.

South Bend Police Chief Scott Ruszkowski has been an officer in the City of South Bend for almost 35 years.

“I can’t remember a time where it has ever felt this bad,” says Chief Ruszkowski.

Kids grabbing for guns instead of monkey bars, pulling triggers instead of bicycle breaks.

“It almost feels like Halloween. Just knock on a door and you can get a gun instead of candy,” says Chief Ruszkowski.

“Seriously, it’s that serious?” Replied Christine.

“It’s what it feels like,” responded Chief Ruszkowski.

Between 2019 and 2021, South Bend Police were able to identify at least 300 juvenile suspects involved in a gun violence incident. So far this year, 65 have been identified.

“It shouldn’t be any,” exclaimed Chief Ruszkowski. “But here we are having you ask me questions about this that you should never have to be asking me about.”

In 2019, the youngest suspect was 13 years old.

In 2020, the youngest was four.

“If you can open a can of soda, you can pull the trigger on a firearm,” says Chief Ruszkowski.

In 2021, the youngest was 10.

So far this year, the youngest was 12.

“How on earth could a young child, especially four years old or whatever the case, get access to it. How is it even left available to get access to that,” says Chief Ruszkowski.

Another issue…

“Why does she or he feel that they need to protect themselves with a firearm that could end the life of somebody else including themselves,” adds Chief Ruszkowski.

Behavior unimaginable when looking at an eight, nine or even 10-year-old.

“How do you learn as a kid how to play a game? How do you learn how to play tag? That is by somebody else. Either teaching you or learning by watching and that is how it is happening,” explains Chief Ruszkowski.

“The crime that we are seeing on the streets with the juveniles, is it leaking into our school system?” asks Christine.

“Oh yeah, no doubt about it,” replies Chief Ruszkowski.

In addition to firearms being found in schools, Chief Ruszkowski says there is another issue, drugs.

“I know some people will say, ‘well it’s just a little bit of weed or whatever. Its harmless.’ Well, I can’t tell you how many sheets over bodies that we put because of something that is harmless,” says Chief Ruszkowski.

When weapons or drugs are found in South Bend schools, White says the administration gets involved, the police are called in and the items are turned over to them. From there, a police report is taken and sent to the Juvenile Justice Center for review and potential charges. At the same time, the school follows their Code of Conduct to determine their disciplinary action. No matter what, White says a letter is sent out to either the students directly involved or the entire school body, every single time.

“Why not look to things like metal detectors?” asks Christine.

“I think we have a balance of how we want our students to feel about when they enter our school buildings. Of course, we want to take as many measures for our students to feel safe and secure, and it’s not that we haven’t thought about any type of metal wanding, metal detection, but I would also have to ask, what kind of message does that send to a young teenage mind who is coming to school to learn and have to walk through a metal detector every day,” says White.

A young child shot by an even younger sibling, curious by a firearm. A kid who feels the need to carry a gun to and from school. A teen engaging in situations they have no business being involved in. When is enough, enough?

“I think this is a village effort. It is an old saying, it takes a village, but I really think it this case it does. It’s not just the South Bend Police Department. it’s not just the prosecutor’s office, or JJC, or the school corporation. It is a combination of everyone including the parents. They are not in their kid’s business and you ought to be in your kids business. This is for every parent out there. Is any parent going to be flawless at their duties? No, absolutely not, but to be careless or not caring at all in their duties. To me, there is no excuse for that. I don’t care what anybody else says,” says Chief Ruszkowski.

“No, I don’t want weapons in our building. I don’t want kids hurt or injured in our building. But I am really tired of hearing about and losing our children out on the streets,” says White.

“If you see something, or know something, you need to say something. This is not about, lets hem this kid up and let’s get him out of society. That is not what this is about. It is about getting that firearm, let’s get a hold of that thing before it can be used or used against them,” says Chief Ruszkowski.

Submit a Tip:

If you know of something happening in South Bend schools, you can submit an anonymous tip through quick tip:

If you know of something happening in our community, you can submit an anonymous tip through Michiana Crime Stoppers:

Penn Harris Madison Schools:

According to Penn Harris Madison Schools, they only had records as far back as 2017. Since then, they found and confiscated approximately 131 weapons or look-a-like weapons. Look-a-like weapons include water guns, Nerf guns, air soft guns and other types of toy weapons.

They said they have not had any guns confiscated since 2017. Guns include rifles, hang guns, etc.

Schools City of Mishawaka:

According to Mishawaka, since 2019, they have confiscated 51 weapons. Two of those weapons were guns, 42 of them were knives, there was one taser, one plastic knife, one bullet, one corkscrew, one costume weapon, one pencil and one sharp broken plastic.

South Bend Police Department Stats:

South Bend Police Department crime statistics.
South Bend Police Department crime statistics.(WNDU)