Mental health, gang violence at forefront of Goshen leaders' minds

·4 min read

May 24—GOSHEN — During a press conference addressing the recent uptick in violence within the city of Goshen, Mayor Jeremy Stutsman acknowledged that some of the recent violence in the city has been associated with gang activity. While the gang task force is not yet official, he and other task force members hope to have the official relationship in the coming weeks.

"We as a community will find ways to support each other so that we can avoid the anger and aggression that appears to be going across our nation and our community," he said. "As a community, we do not want to see any more of these devastating murders. Our families, our communities and our youth deserve better."

Goshen Police Chief José Miller squelched rumors that the Saturday afternoon shooting on Rosemare Court was gang related.

"I feel that comments like that, that are not known can cast a shadow on the family that's already going through a lot of things and a lot of emotions," he said.

Miller addressed other comments on recent Facebook post indicating that the mayor or city council aren't doing enough to help the police department.

"That's never been the case," Miller said. "The mayor and the council have always supported the police department and I thank them greatly for what they give us.

In fact, since 2016, the city council has added $2.5 million to the Goshen Police Department's annual budget.

The Goshen City Council also appropriated over $1 million toward various programs to support mental health in the city. For development of support services in the mental health arena, along with Oaklawn, they have appropriated $900,000. They have also placed an additional $300,000 toward the service of nonprofit organizations to boost resources for those who need them.

In addition, Stutsman announced during the meeting that this year, Goshen Police Department implemented a new position. He said Officer James Ballard became the department's first mental health and behavioral health coordinator in January 2021, and that there are now 25 officers who are certified in critical-incident training, which he said, "helps them to better identify and respond to those individuals having a mental health or behavioral health crisis."

"As we have all witnessed throughout our community, violent crimes are on the rise," Stutsman said. "And sadly, escalations happening throughout our country (have) come to our community. As a community we need to support our police and public safety network. We also need to come together to create an impenetrable support system to help those in the most need when it comes to behavioral and mental health crises."

Stutsman assured that the Goshen city administration is committed to continuing to build a support network for mental and behavioral health services.

Elkhart County Prosecutor Vicky Becker added that other resources exist within the region as well. Oaklawn's own nonprofit community outreach program the Source offers resources for mental health services for connecting providers, youth and families to remove the barriers to mental health resources and treatments."

Miller continued, "When it comes to crime, yes, it's no secret, crime has risen in our nation over the last few years."

He explained that the nation has seen a 50% increase in violent crimes in 2021, and in the city, there have been 19 acts of gun violence, five injuries, four deaths, three adults arrested, four juveniles arrested, five residents shot at, and three instances of vehicles being shot at.

"These are crimes that jeopardize so many innocents that are in their path," the chief said. "The problem we encounter at the Goshen Police Department is we don't get a lot of cooperation at a lot of these things. We don't get a lot of information at a lot of these things so we're already behind the ball. It makes our job very difficult."

It's a community issue that is unrelated to ethnicity or race, he pointed out.

"Until our country comes together and stops being divided, we will not fix this problem. ... I request that society, communities, pull together, start looking at these, start giving some avenues for these young people and start showing them the way that we were shown and the way that a proper person should live here and treat people."

He added that he still feels Goshen is a safe place. Many of the incidents are targeted.

"The problem is, it's targeted with innocent people in the wake, and that's what's scary," Miller said. "That's what's dangerous."

Dani Messick is the education and entertainment reporter for The Goshen News. She can be reached at dani.messick@goshennews.com or at 574-538-2065.