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South Bend Police chief, councilman spar over letter to Department of Justice

August 16, 2012|By Kelli Stopczynski (kstopczynski@wsbt.com) | WSBT-TV Reprorter

The fallout continues nearly five months after a federal wiretapping investigation into phone recording policies at South Bend's police department went public. 

Both the interim police chief and Fraternal Order of Police president say they aren’t standing for a city councilman's claims there is a racist and criminal culture within the department.

Councilman Henry Davis Jr. (D–2nd District) is asking for a federal investigation into the policies, practices and behaviors at the police department. He sent a four-page letter to the U.S. Department of Justice one week ago asking for the department's intervention.

Interim Police Chief Chuck Hurley says he welcomes a third party investigation, but doesn’t buy Davis’ arguments.

Davis said Thursday his proof of racism and a criminal culture in the department exists in three specific places:

1. A 2006 study from an Indiana University South Bend sociology professor claiming South Bend Police arrested and ticketed more black people than white.

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2. Conversations Davis had with at least 15 black and white officers in the past eight months and their claims about what is happening within the department.


3. Comments from fired communications director Karen DePaepe and her attorney to local news media, saying there were illegal, unethical and racist comments on a recorded phone line in the police department's detective bureau.

“That’s what’s very disappointing,” Hurley said. “When he’s saying there’s a criminal culture, corruption in the department, racism in the department, he's absolutely wrong. This department enjoys a fine reputation, has outstanding officers and I'm very proud of them.”

“I never said they were racist,” Davis countered.

But when WSBT showed him the letter to the DOJ where he specifically addressed racism, he indicated those were not his words.

“I’m responding to what Karen DePaepe (said) and the other things I've looked at have said about the racism that goes on in the South Bend Police Department. I’ve never said that. I’ve said that if there's an issue with racism, it needs to be handled accordingly.”

Hurley said he’s open for a discussion with Davis about his concerns regarding the police department.

“I’ve been here since March 31 and he’s never asked to come in here and meet with me,” Hurley told WSBT.

“Chief Hurley is not telling the truth. We have had these conversations (and) he has addressed the council with great uncertainty and generalized statements,” Davis said. “I’ve done my job.  I’m asking him to do his now.”

Hurley maintains he is – citing crime statistics down 17 percent since the beginning of the year in every category except homicides.

“Obviously there are some politicians who think even bad publicity is good publicity because it gives them name recognition for the next election. I don't buy that,” Hurley added.

He said the letter Davis wrote most certainly damages the morale of the department, but people who live in South Bend are safe because it's not affecting the officers' ability to do their jobs. 

Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 36 President Lt. Steve Noonan released a statement about Davis’ letter Thursday, saying the FOP does not agree with what Davis wrote and welcoming any council member to meet with the FOP’s executive board.

WSBT reached out to the Department of Justice Wednesday and Thursday to see if it received Davis’ letter and how it intends to respond. As of early Thursday evening, the department had not responded.

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