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Assessing priorities

Staff Editorial | Friday, August 31, 2007

Two weeks is all it takes for 10 people – including two Notre Dame students – to get shot in South Bend, but it’s not enough time for the Common Council to realize its priorities are misplaced.

For more than a month, the Council has insisted on repeatedly reworking a party permit ordinance that its own police department warns is unenforceable. The proposed ordinance would require residents of houses with more than two unrelated occupants to apply for a city permit for any parties that host more than 25 guests and serve alcohol.

Council members pitched the ordinance as a way to crack down on disruptive house parties that they and their constituents say have become a tiresome – and serious – problem.

The far more serious problem of gun violence, however, hasn’t gotten nearly as much attention at recent Council meetings.

Admittedly, it’s easier to prevent parties than shootings, and it’s up to the police, not the Common Council, to fight violent crime. Still, as South Bend’s governing body, it’s the Council’s job to decide how city resources are allocated. And passing an ordinance like this will only stretch valuable police forces thinner.

Council members have spent weeks debating details: How many guests should people be allowed to host without applying for a permit? And how long before should they have to apply?

Police, however, don’t have time for those details. They have 10 unresolved shootings to worry about. When they get shuffled to other assignments – like checking up on a party with 30 guests – attention inevitably gets diverted from more important concerns.

“The question is how far is everybody willing to stretch or fund the city’s resources to necessarily enforce this,” South Bend police public information officer Phil Trent said last week. “We need to take a really good look at all the city resources and our ability to do what we say we’re going to do.”

Two years ago, the Common Council amended its disorderly home ordinance, encouraging landlords to evict rowdy tenants after a single noise violation. While off-campus parties are a noisy, messy headache for South Bend residents, the legislation to address that already exists. Spending weeks upon weeks struggling to enact a piece of legislation that’s riddled with problems – when there are worse ones out there – is a waste of time.

The Council must pour hours, money and manpower into stopping violent crime, not noise violations, if it truly wants to better the city it was elected to serve.