A Letter from Mayor Dave Wood
Unprecedented Times for Police Departments and Our Own MPD
I’ve said here in these lines before that there is no service provided by local government more vital than public safety. Here in Mishawaka, it’s priority number one. Under my leadership we put our money where our mouths are! Police and Fire represent the biggest departments in Mishawaka government in terms of money allocated to personal services in our budget and number of employees.
The top priority of the City of Mishawaka and the Mishawaka Police Department (MPD) remains the safety and protection of our community. The MPD continues to enhance quality of life in Mishawaka through the prevention and enforcement of crimes against people and property. The MPD also remains focused on community-oriented policing and strives to enhance the confidence our residents have in our policing efforts. As Mishawaka continues to grow, and as thousands of visitors’ flock to the Princess City each day, that makes providing this service extra challenging and important.
Providing this foundational public service is getting ever more challenging given recent national events and scrutiny of the profession. One of the biggest problems we now face is that many potential applicants are simply deciding that policing is not for them. The lack of applicants for police work is becoming an acute issue in most communities.
In Mishawaka, we are no exception. We are seeing less applicants than ever before. It was not uncommon a few years back that application pools might be near 100 applicants. Now, sometimes we are lucky to get a handful. The lack of interest in applying for police work is creating extreme competition between communities who are vying for the smaller number of applicants.
Many communities are deploying new recruitment and outreach strategies. Some are increasing base wages and other compensation packages and a few even attempt to recruit, or “poach” officers from other communities. It is now common practice for departments to offer generous incentives and signing bonuses aimed at encouraging lateral transfers of sworn officers from department to department.
The cumulative effect of this activity is already starting to create “haves and have nots” among Indiana cities and towns as some communities are better equipped to compete and attract officers than others. Attracting and hiring enough qualified police officers has the potential of becoming a real crisis statewide and beyond.
While we were at full staff (plus one) at the MPD just about a year ago, we currently are down over a dozen officers largely due to retirements along with six additional officers added to this year’s budget. We now find ourselves in a position where we are trying new tactics to keep up with and/or match what other communities are doing around our region to attract officers. However, we are always exploring new ways to best position and differentiate the MPD above the rest.
Fortunately, Mishawaka is on the leading edge of compensation packages and recruitment efforts and because of our resourcefulness we are successfully competing. We remain dedicated to attracting and hiring the best quality officers, equipping them with the latest equipment, building state-of-the-art facilities, providing them with top level training, outstanding leadership as well as providing competitive pay and benefits.
Nonetheless, making positive changes to our compensation package and work rules can be complicated. The MPD is unionized and wages and working conditions are negotiated and formalized in a collective bargaining agreement. To complicate things more, state law states that the City administration is responsible for negotiating the contract terms such as working conditions and time off while the City Council is responsible for setting annual wages for police and fire departments.
In the past, those two things happened completely separately making it difficult to get substantive change. Last year, it was determined that the best way to move forward with collaborative negotiations was to join together in the collective bargaining negotiations in the best interest of all involved. For the first time ever (or at least that I can recall), my administration worked closely with the Mishawaka Common Council’s negotiation Committee and the Mishawaka Fraternal Order of Police collective bargaining team, all at the same table to negotiate. After months of effort and countless meetings, a new collective bargaining agreement was passed unanimously by the Mishawaka Common Council last month which gives our dedicated officers the biggest raise in City history.
In case you are wondering, to be a Mishawaka police officer, you need not have any experience, must be between the ages of 21 and 40 to be hired and can start with a base salary of nearly $70,000 with opportunities to increase that significantly by specializing in certain disciplines. There are also various allowances for equipment, uniform and city residency as well as ample overtime opportunities.
I’d like to thank the FOP collective bargaining team under the leadership of President Richard Freeman, the Council Negotiating Committee including President Gregg Hixenbaugh, and members Tony Hazen and Mike Compton and, of course, my administrative team including Chief Ken Witkowski, Asst. Chiefs Alex Arndt and Craig Nowacki and Controller Rebecca Maguire for their tireless work and dedication to improving our department for all.
We continue to transform our Mishawaka Police Department as we seek to keep up with modern trends while prioritizing placing more officers in your neighborhood. Recently, following the retirement of our police recruiter and resignation of our training officer, we decided it was best to civilianize those positions rather than fill them from within with sworn officers. This practice allows us to put more officers on the street rather than desk duties within the department. We are committed to continue to civilianize administrative positions where we can through attrition so sworn officers can focus on responding to the needs of our community.
We continue to balance the constraints of our budget and the needs of our community. As we do, public safety will remain job number one. Rest assured that our MPD will continue to deploy best practices and proven crime prevention strategy and tactics to keep pace with the rapid growth of our city.
While we take an active and aggressive role in fighting crime with the purpose of providing its citizens with a safe environment to raise their families for many years to come. We will monitor the budget situation so that we can continue to offer not only this service, but all of our worldclass Mishawaka City services that you’ve come to expect.
I’ll be talking about public safety again in the coming months via the Communicator. In it, we’ll do a deep dive into Mishawaka crime data as well as our unique approach to preventing and solving crimes of importance in our neighborhoods.
Godspeed Mike Watson
It is right that we commemorate and pay tribute to the exemplary life of Mike Watson, a remarkable man who dedicated his life to a serving the City of Mishawaka and the community that he so dearly loved.
Mike Watson, who was a longtime Mishawaka public servant, passed away on March 22nd, 2023.
Mayor Wood stated that, “Mike was a great public servant to our citizens, father-like figure to me, mentor to many and friend to all. He changed our city for the better in many immeasurable ways and he will be greatly missed.”
Mike was loved by all and his efforts on behalf of our community and remarkable leadership have made a
lasting difference that will not soon be forgotten. There truly could not have been a kinder and more dedicated man who gave it all to impact countless lives.
Mishawaka has lost a notable man that has served as an inspiration to us. Mike stands as a model to all of us, of his love for his community and steadfast service to others. Mike’s life and inspiration will live on through the many lives that have been deeply touched.
“Mike was always seeking ways to advance and improve Mishawaka. He had a significant impact on our community throughout his 48 years of exemplary service, which will be felt for years to come,” stated Council President Hixenbaugh.
Yours in Mishawaka,