Indiana : Safety by City
- Cedar Lake
- Crown Point
- Fort Wayne
- Michigan City
- Santa Claus
- South Bend
- Terre Haute
- Winona Lake
Do you know where South Bend, Indiana gets its name from?
Let’s make this multiple choice.
- A: Due to the location of the city in the state?
- B: Named after a Native American tribe?
- C: Named after the direction along the St. Joseph River?
The answer is coming up in a little bit.
For now, let’s dive into the fourth-largest city in Indiana.
It’s home to almost 104,000 people and is very close to the Michigan border.
It sits along the Rust Belt in the Midwest and at one point 45,000 people worked at the Studebaker factory here until it closed in the 1960s.
The Fighting Irish of Notre Dame is synonymous with South Bend, even though the university is technically in its own city, also named Notre Dame.
Notre Dame has its own zip code and everything.
South Bend has a couple of different images out there, and from what I can tell through my research, they are all true.
One is an affordable city to visit with plenty of indoor and outdoor activities.
Another is a poor city (21% poverty rate and $43,000 average income) with blight and abandoned factories.
The third is one of the top 5 most dangerous cities in the country with a population of over 100,000.
Warnings & Dangers in South Bend
OVERALL RISK : MEDIUM
There's a medium risk in South Bend even though some of these crime statistics really make me want to give it a high risk. There's a one in 58 risks of being a violent crime victim and the violent crime rate is a staggering 4 times higher than the state and national rates.
TRANSPORT & TAXIS RISK : MEDIUM
Transpo is the local bus system with regularly scheduled stops around the city. As of mid-2022, the company was having trouble finding drivers, forcing them to cancel routes. You can also get a taxi or rideshare here. I'd recommend having your own car for safety, but that does bring additional safety risks we'll discuss. There's a medium risk, whichever option you choose.
PICKPOCKETS RISK : MEDIUM
There were 21 pickpockets in 2020, which doesn't seem like too many in a city of 104,000 people, but it's medium risk. That's more because if criminals here want to steal from you, they aren't afraid to get violent to make it happen. I wouldn't go in public here without the very basic necessities and keep everything out of sight and hidden in pockets that aren't easily accessible or noticeable.
NATURAL DISASTERS RISK : MEDIUM
This is definitely the snowier part of Indiana, with an average of more than five feet falling each winter. Sometimes that can come with a blizzard or ice storm. A quick YouTube search of "South Bend Tornado" will show you just how powerful those storms can be. The county emergency management plan includes flooding, drought, extreme heat, and extreme cold. All that adds up to medium risk, but you should be on high alert if there's a weather watch.
MUGGING RISK : MEDIUM
There's a medium risk here as well, with a robbery rate more than three times the national average. The way data was counted in 2020 if a robbery turned into an assault, only the assault was counted in the reports. That means any one of the 1,421 aggravated assaults could've started as a robbery that got violent. If you are robbed here, don't fight back and just try to remember as much as you can to be a good witness.
TERRORISM RISK : LOW
The disaster planning for St. Joseph County, where South Bend is located, includes Nuclear Attack Threat. There are some tech companies here, but nothing so big that a terror group might want to hit South Bend over large populations like nearby Chicago or Indianapolis. I'd say the risk is low, but it can't hurt to review the planning just in case.
SCAMS RISK : MEDIUM
Fraud was so bad here in 2019 that the city issued a "Fraud Alert Warning" due to so many people getting scammed. However, that was related to emails, phone calls, or text messages to residents. In a city that is so riddled with crime, I want to put a medium risk on this, because you can't really trust anyone here who is offering any kind of deal. From a winning lottery ticket that the person can't cash into rental homes that might not be legit, you should question everyone offering a "too good to be true" deal. You can also rest assured there isn't a warrant out for your arrest here and, if there is, you certainly can't pay to have that warrant expunged.
WOMEN TRAVELERS RISK : MEDIUM
The sexual assault rate is twice the national average and there are a lot of places to get into trouble here that seem tempting. With Notre Dame being nearby, there's a great nightlife opportunity out there. Women should travel in groups, never leave a woman behind, and always cover their drink when they aren't taking a swig. Don't walk around at night here and use GPS along main roads to get around. It's a medium risk and you should take personal safety extra seriously here.
TAP WATER RISK : LOW
The tap water in South Bend passed all tests done in the 2022 Annual Water Quality Report. That means it meets or exceeds all requirements of the state and federal governments. This might be the only low risk that exists in South Bend.
Safest Places to Visit in South Bend
The Notre Dame Campus is open to visitors and has plenty of must-see attractions.
The university website details all of the tour options and sports schedules.
No matter what religion you are, the Basilica of the Sacred Heart will most likely take your breath away.
Our Lady of the Lourdes grotto is another Instagram-worthy moment.
Another safe option is the Potawatomi Zoo.
This is the oldest zoo in Indiana and it’s a great place to fill up a day while interacting with animals from around the world.
There are even some winter hours, so the summer visitors don’t get all the zoo fun.
There are extras like animal encounters, which are standard at any zoo, but here you can do a Bison and/or Rhino encounter.
I’m not sure I’ve ever heard of a bison encounter.
Those suckers are HUGE!
The Studebaker Museum is one of the top destinations for tourists in South Bend.
This is a three-story, 55,000 square-foot homage to the Studebaker.
You’ll be able to see 150 years of Studebaker madness through 120 vehicles.
In what seems like a random attraction at a car museum, you can also see the carriage President Lincoln rode in the night he was assassinated.
What’s the connection?
Visit the museum and you’ll find out.
The South Bend Civil Rights Heritage Center is a great lesson in history, diversity, and inclusion.
It is housed in a building that was once segregated and among the exhibits is a Peace Garden, where people can reflect, heal, and hope.
Summer visitors should catch a ride on the whitewater rapids of the East Race Waterway.
This is an artificial waterway with class 2 rapids.
You can ride in groups or solo and the ride is generally over in five to 10 minutes.
River Lights Plaza is a great place to see St. Joseph River in all its glory from an island.
It’s right along the part of the river that bends south.
(And that’s the answer to the question at the top!)
Places to Avoid in South Bend
If you aren’t far east, west, north, or south in South Bend, there are a lot of crime reports in the central area.
This doesn’t mean every part of the city is dangerous or that crime is imminent.
Many crimes are domestic situations or gang/drug activity.
However, you don’t want to risk driving through a neighborhood that is unpredictable or unknown to you.
Stay on the main roads.
Try to travel only during the day and drive with the car doors locked.
You should also avoid any interaction with someone who looks like they might be about to panhandle you or large groups of shady characters on a street.
Cross the street or go into a public place if anything doesn’t feel right.
This isn’t a city to take a risk in.
There are some safer neighborhoods, like around the zoo, but you can go from a good neighborhood to a dangerous one quickly.
You can search for the most recent crimes on the police department’s website.
This will help you choose a location to stay in, as there are several groupings of hotels and one group is right in the most dangerous part of the city.
Safety Tips for Traveling to South Bend
- Bookmark the City of South Bend Police Department’s website. Here you can get connections to their social media and the latest news releases. Aside from an outdated YouTube channel, law enforcement updates crime information regularly.
- Here’s a number to save in your phone now. It’s for the Michiana Crime Stoppers. That number is 1-800-342-STOP. If you have any information about a crime, you can contact them anonymously and be eligible for a reward. Community policing is necessary to make a city like South Bend safer.
- Remember the COVID dashboards everyone used to track cases in their communities? The police department has a similar digital dashboard for crimes in the area by year and year-to-date. You can even drill down as specific as the locations of the 19 murders in 2021.
- You can rent bicycles in South Bend to use on the trails or the streets. You should definitely stay aware of your surroundings, no matter where you ride, and keep your earbuds or headphones at home. I would suggest not riding after dark due to the crime numbers.
- Street parking is free in downtown South Bend for the first two hours. There are also several parking lots that charge $10 per day. Weekend parking is free. Try to always park in a well-lit area, near a surveillance camera, and as close to an elevator as possible, if using a garage. The Downtown South Bend website has an interactive map of parking and costs to help you get to the parking location without having to drive around aimlessly.
- South Bend 311 is a community program that offers assistance to those in need and a way to report common problems like potholes, dead animals, or car damage from a snow plow. You should also bookmark this for your travels around South Bend.
- Sign up for emergency notification alerts through St. Joseph County Alert Center website section. You can handpick which emergency notifications you’d like to get. Also, make sure the WEA function on your mobile device is activated. That’s a built-in weather alert system standard on mobile devices since 2012.
- If you want to ride the rapids in downtown South Bend, you must be at least 54″ tall. You will have to wear a helmet and rubber-soled shoes to take part in the rafting adventure. You can bring your own kayak and ride the falls without having to pay.
- Before getting into the water of the St. Joseph River, you should research if there have been any floods lately that could impact the water quality. Avoid the river for at least a few days after heavy rain, as storm runoff goes into the river and could include chemicals and sewage. You should always bathe immediately after being in the St. Joseph River.
- For anglers, you’ll need a fishing license from the Indiana Department of Fish and Game. The fees recently went up, but a one-day license as a non-resident will cost $15. You can get a 7-day license for $35.
So... How Safe Is South Bend Really?
Before I dive into the staggering crime statistics, it’s important to note that every community has its own dangers.
The “Most Dangerous” rankings are solely done on crime statistics in a city and then doing the math to see how many crimes that equals per 100,000 people.
For example, if the same six people robbed each other 10 times, that would be 60 robberies.
However, it would sound like a rash of robberies, right?
Most cities with high crime rates will have the mayor or police chief say it’s a very small population of the city causing the problems.
Sometimes, crimes are even among the same groups of people, repeatedly making a victim of each other or others in the groups.
You aren’t going to feel an overwhelming sense of dread walking around South Bend, though it’s not a pristine city by any means.
Some parts are hard to see and feel very sketchy.
There are other parts where you can make great memories with your family.
Even with the context of the crimes, the numbers are still eye-opening in South Bend.
The 2020 data show the following raw crime numbers:
- Violent Crimes: 1765
- Robbery: 238
- Theft: 2511
44% of the thefts were from vehicles, so there’s a key indicator as a tourist of how to protect yourself.
If you don’t plan on renting or driving your own car while you’re here, there’s a lower theft rate for you.
Of the 1,756 violent crimes, 3% were known to be against strangers.
83% of the violent crimes were “relationship unknown,” so there is a chance that they included some strangers.
55% of the violent crimes happened in private homes, which wouldn’t impact a tourist unless you met someone and went to their home, which is a bad idea in any city.
Only one violent crime happened in a transportation terminal.
I go into that detail so you can see the importance of giving context to crime.
South Bend still comes with its own set of dangers, but it’s not something that makes the majority of residents live in fear.
How Does South Bend Compare?
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- Visas - You should start the Visa application at least four months ahead of your trip to make sure you finish all the required steps. Once you're in South Bend, you'll use your passport and not your visa to prove your ID. You don't need to show the Visa to get into Michigan either.
- Currency - Only the U.S. Dollar is used here. You should avoid carrying cash at all if you can. Purchase as much as possible ahead of time and when going in public you should just bring one credit card. Check your purchases daily to make sure there isn't any fraud.
- Weather - Winter travelers need snow boots, heavy coats, gloves, scarves - the works. There's a lot of snow here. Summer is going to be hot, but not as hot as some other parts of the country. You should dress in layers throughout spring and fall since the temperatures can fluctuate.
- Airports - The South Bend Airport is four miles west of the city center. If you want to fly out of a Chicago airport, plan for a two-hour drive. The Indianapolis airport is about three hours south.
- Travel Insurance - You should get travel insurance for a place where the weather can impact flights and the weather on the ground can be so extreme.
South Bend Weather Averages (Temperatures)
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