South Bend, IN – A South Bend police officer conducting a routine walk-through at a local elementary school was told by a school administrator to leave campus because his presence could make people uncomfortable (video below).
The incident occurred shortly before 9:30 a.m. on April 21, bodycam footage showed.
South Bend Police Officer James Sweeney was conducting a routine unannounced walk-through at Coquillard Elementary School when he was confronted by South Bend Empowerment Zone CEO Cheryl Camacho, WSBT reported.
Camacho introduced herself as the chief of the Empowerment Zone, the video showed.
“This is one of my five schools,” she told Officer Sweeney. “Just walking through? What’s going on?”
The officer said he is just making sure everyone is safe.
“Okay. Alright. Yeah, we’re fine. We’re good,” Camacho said.
Officer Sweeney then asked her if she liked having officers come into the school.
She told him she wanted to know the “scope” of what he was there for.
He reiterated that he is a peacekeeper and that his only intent was to make sure everyone is okay inside the school building.
Another school employee told Camacho that Officer Sweeney has been coming to the school for years.
“Um, who can I talk with about, like, just that? In terms of our building?” Camacho asked him.
He told her that if having officers on the premises makes her “uncomfortable,” that she is welcome to contact the police chief’s office to ask them to stop coming in unannounced.
“I wouldn’t say blanket uncomfortable,” Camacho said. “We’re just breaking from a lot of past practices.”
She noted she is also “not supportive of” narcotics K9s going through the schools, the video showed.
Camacho said she and the police chief “probably need to have a conversation” in order to come to an understanding about what role Camacho expects local police to play in the schools.
Officer Sweeney said he does not make policy and agreed she should discuss the issue with the police chief for further clarification.
“You’re not gonna hurt my feelings,” he said, cutting to the chase. “If you don’t want me walking through your school, I won’t come through your school.”
“Yeah, I think for now, let’s hold until I have a conversation with the chief,” Camacho said.
“Okay so just so we’re clear – you don’t want me through your school,” Officer Sweeney said.
“Not until I have a conversation with the chief about what the focus will be,” the administrator confirmed.
“I’ll pass it along that we’re not to come in here,” the officer assured her.
They exchanged a cordial goodbye before Officer Sweeney departed the school and radioed his supervisor about Camacho’s directive that he leave, the video showed.
“Please feel free to watch my body camera. It was on the whole time,” Officer Sweeney said over the radio. “You’ll be disgusted.”
Empowerment Zone Board Chair Sam Centellas told WSBT the proactive walk-throughs are out of line.
“‘Just here to keep you safe,’ to me, is not a good answer,” Centellas declared. “If a police officer came to my house and said ‘I’m just here to keep you safe,’ I would say no.”
Camacho later released a statement saying the South Bend Empowerment Zone “is responsible for ensuring that ALL of our children feel safe and supported at school,” WSBT reported.
“Given the demographics of the students we serve, it is critical that every adult who interacts with a child in our buildings is aligned to our vision, mission, and core beliefs,” she added.
Camacho said they will call the police if they need them, but that they are not welcome to come into the building without being requested.
“When there is an emergency we absolutely want, welcome, and expect the police to help us,” she said. “We stand ready to have additional conversations to ensure our shared and aligned vision for non-emergency interaction and contact between the police, students, and staff.”
Camacho told KABC she has spoken with police administrators and that officers will be required to contact school principals before they will be allowed to enter the school buildings.
They also must be escorted through the halls except in emergency situations.
South Bend Police Department (SBPD) Media Liaison Christine Karsten said the agency is in the internal “inquiry stage” with regards to the interaction between Officer Sweeney and Camacho, WSBT reported.
“South Bend Police Department has proudly served our schools for more than 35 years,” Karsten said in a press release.
“Contrary to a few recent misleading statements, our objective was and is never to arrest or send kids to jail,” she continued. “Instead, our officers taught DARE, mentored thousands of children, helped with life and career paths, created groups that help build self-esteem, coached sports, and built lasting and trusting relationships.”
The SBPD will continue to keep schools safe “without hesitation” unless the South Bend School Corporation tells them to do something differently, Karsten wrote.
“With that said, schools are part of our community and we will continue to do what we can to help them,” the statement read. “We feel this is the proper thing as we are receiving an overwhelming amount of feedback and support from our students, parents, and South Bend families.”
The South Bend Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) Lodge #36 said in a Facebook post on Friday that the way Officer Sweeney was treated was “both frustrating and deeply concerning.”
The FOP said officers “work tirelessly to foster relationships with the community” they serve, especially when working with local youth.
“Taking a walk through a local school is a great opportunity for patrol officers to ensure our community’s youth are safe,” the FOP said. “This is also a great opportunity for officers to develop relationships with both the children and educators within these schools.”
The FOP denounced Camacho’s comments and actions, which they said were “feeding into” divisiveness.
The union further noted that there was a total of 133 shootings in South Bend in 2020 alone.
Twenty-three of those shootings were fatal, and none of them involved law enforcement.
“The shooting stats for 2021 thus far are just as disturbing,” the FOP said. “Our officers are risking their lives on a daily basis in an effort to combat this violence, but we need our community’s support now more than ever. These are the issues and tough conversations that need to be had. Not why an officer is walking through our community’s schools.”
Watch the incident unfold in the video below: