After reading recent reports of such violence in the city in recent weeks, Phelps, a resident of South Bend for 40 years, said he felt compelled to take action.
“It’s out of control, and we have to go after it,” Phelps, the former Notre Dame basketball coach and current ESPN commentator, said Wednesday.
Phelps said he will recruit community assets to come up with solutions to violence and ways to better educate the city’s youth.
- Community town hall meeting set for 6:30 p.m. May 10 at the Kroc Center.
Phelps, a longtime and outspoken community activist, also spoke passionately at a Monday common council committee meeting about solutions to youth violence.
Phelps said he will coach this team of so-called crime fighters and mentors, and wants his starting five to consist of: Mayor Pete Buttigieg, South Bend Community School Corp. Superintendent Carole Schmidt, Police Chief Chuck Hurley, the common council and the media.
Among his many ideas, Phelps, who will team with former South Bend Fire Chief Howard Buchanon on the initiative, would like to see an increase in community policing.
He compelled each of the common council members who represent one of the city’s six districts to recruit three neighborhood watch captains — 18 for the entire city — who will go out and find other neighborhood watch volunteers that are willing “to play in the game” of stopping the violence. Each of the 18 people will form a team of volunteers to monitor their area of the district. Phelps said the at-large council members also can help by recruiting volunteers in areas with more crime.
“I want them to knock on doors like when they were campaigning,” he said.
Council member Dr. David Varner, R-5th, said Phelps’ campaign is important.
“Digger’s not the kind of person that’s gonna get in front and promote something and not back it up,” Varner said at the council’s meeting Monday. “I hope we can find a way to make this work out, coach, I really do.”
But stopping crime isn’t just about what goes on in the streets. It’s about what goes on in the classroom, too, Phelps said.
Phelps pointed to a Business Journal report about how Americans will struggle to keep up with the world’s economy at the pace they’re currently achieving in the classroom — 17th in science and 25th in math.
Most importantly, he said, is getting the community on board.
Phelps said he is going to make an aggressive plea at the media and town hall sessions to recruit an additional 500 mentors for students by the upcoming school year. That’s on top of the 200 or so already in place.
“We can bring back the economy with the schools,” said Phelps, who has been a proponent of mentoring in the past and has also spearheaded efforts to fix up Marquette and Lincoln schools in South Bend.
He said local businesses also can assist in these efforts by offering internships that train students for careers. For example, Clay High School has a culinary class, and those students could benefit from teaming up with Martin’s.
“We can start exposing them to careers at an early age,” he said. “We need to bring all this stuff to the table — all the community assets to the table.”
He said he wants to lure local college students into the South Bend schools for tutoring programs, and draw on other community groups such as the Boys & Girls Club, Mamas Against Violence, Martin Luther King Center and the Kroc Community Center, for example.
Between these organizations, the many colleges in town, city leaders, police and people who care about the community, he said he believes South Bend can set the trend for successful communities.
“We are a sleeping giant,” he said. “We need to get the community together and fire everyone up.”
Staff writer Kevin Allen contributed to this report.
Staff writer Tom Moor: