MCPD critics should ‘check facts’
Chief says candidates spreading discord is not productive
MICHIGAN CITY – Michigan City Police Chief Mark Swistek knows it’s an election year, and candidates like to bring up crime as a campaign issue. He just wishes they’d do a little fact-checking before making negative statements.
In recent articles in The News-Dispatch, some candidates for city office commented on the high crime rate in the city, people afraid to walk the streets, distrust of police by the black community, and a need for more community outreach efforts.
As the chief, Swistek takes such criticism personally, though he says most of it is unfounded.
“It’s all because this is an election year,” Swistek said. “The two major themes in any election year will be jobs and crime.”
Statistics provided to the FBI, and available for anyone to look at, show crime has been decreasing in the city for years.
“Aside from the recent spike in homicides [two of which were a double-murder suicide, more a mental health than crime issue] our crime data for the past 20 years has shown a decrease,” Swistek said. “In 2014 we recorded one of the lowest years in the history of our recorded stats.
“There will always be drugs and there will always be crime,” he said, “but we have recently seen some of the lowest crime numbers in the last 20 years.”
As for community policing efforts, he says the department is doing more than ever.
“Some candidates say there is more the department can do, but when I spoke with Sheriff [John] Boyd, he said he doesn’t see what more we can do. We have more than 20 programs throughout the year to help bond with the community.”
Looking out of his office, he mentions the park area behind the police station.
“The other day there were five young men out there playing basketball. We buy the balls and loan them out, even though a lot of them we don’t get back. We just buy more. … And in the summer we have a program to feed lunch to the kids.
“We built this station to connect with the community, but these candidates want to keep making it ‘us against them’ and that’s unhealthy for the community.”
He said the department is “always open to new ideas for outreach,” something the MCPD didn’t do much of in the past.
“We did very little of that nine years ago, but in a few weeks, we’ll have a couple thousand kids who will come to the Easter Egg hunt…”
He’s more concerned about at-risk youth and says the department is “trying to do all we can” for them.
“There is a small number of at-risk 16- to 24-year-olds who are responsible for much of the violence in the community.”
That’s a thorn in the chief’s side, and one area where he thinks the community must help the police.
“I always say, and I get flak for it, but it starts at home,” Swistek said. “Parents are the first line of defense. They have to stay on top of their children’s activities, know where they are, who they are with.”
He’d also like to see local pastors partner with the department.
“I sent out an email to the pastors association [Northwest Indiana Ministers Conference] in early February, and to this day [Feb. 27] there’s been no response. We need community partners working with us. We want a partnership with them, but they have these community meetings and exclude law enforcement.”
He said the pastors could be a huge help in crime prevention, and to fight the perception of distrust of police in the black community, though that is something Swistek believes is, again, mostly political talk.
“We have 84 officers in this department, and since 2014, when we started the body worn camera program, internal affairs complaints against officers have plummeted to single digits. Last year, we had seven complaints, and five of those were unfounded. The other two were for officer demeanor – they didn’t like the way the officer spoke to them.”
Swistek said, “If so much distrust existed, one would assume the complaints against our staff would be extremely high. Where is the distrust when there are no complaints? There has been one complaint so far this year.
“All the rhetoric and misinformation is just trying to divide the community,” he said. “The men and women of this department work hard to be the most professional they can be, and to make this the safest community it can be.”
He said racial distrust is “only the opinion of a handful; it’s all in the minds of a few.”
Swistek met last month with Wes Scully, president of the La Porte County NAACP.
“We had a dialog on gun violence and on solving some of the concerns of the community. The mission of the NAACP and the MCPD is the same. We would like try to do the same things with the ministers but they won’t reach out.
“They keep talking about incidents that happened six or seven or eight years ago, but we need to move on. We need to get over our past differences or there can be no progress.”
He said, again, politics gets in the way of progress.
“There’s a lot of rhetoric and discord being spread around at election time, but we must get together and discuss issues like violence and how to address it.
“I am just asking that they set any differences or personality conflicts aside and let’s work together for the overall growth and health of our city. Our communications with the NAACP are open and productive, and we wish to see similar cooperation from the ministers.
“They say that difficult conversations must occur, but we can’t have those conversations if they won’t respond to us.”
The NAACP “understands the importance of working together with law enforcement,” he said. “It’s sad that some of the others don’t.”
He said social media can be part of the problem.
“Social media can be very useful, but some hide behind it to spread discord … Their time could be better spent working or helping out in the community, rather than hiding behind social media to cause civil unrest. It’s very disappointing.
“And I offer my sincere appreciation to all of the men and women of the police department for continually remaining professional when dealing with undeserved negative criticism.”
Some of the MCPD community outreach programs include:
• Daily School Visits
• Easter Egg Hunt
• Youth Leadership Academy
• Cardboard Boat Race
• Kiddie Parade
• Back To School Rally
• Summer Meal Program
• United Way Car Wash
• Neighborhood Sporting Equipment Giveaways
• Citizens Police Academy
• Gun Buy Back Program
• M.C.P.D. Public Campus
• Basketball Courts with Balls
• Playground Equipment & Family Shelter
• ¼ Mile Walking Track
• Leashed Dog Park
• Sledding Hill
• Shop With Our Cops
• Read School Children
• Bicycle Donations