Troubled Gary cops among those recruited in recently revised hiring process
by Lori Caldwell email@example.com|648-3258 November 10, 2012 6:04PM
Marla Guye, Gary Police officer. | Provided Photo~Sun-Times Media
Updated: December 12, 2012 6:27AM
GARY — Around the police station, officers hired since 2008 are known as “The 1500s.”
There’s the usual good-natured rivalry between rookies and old-timers. Last month the two groups staged a basketball game for charity.
The more senior officers won, a much-touted victory.
But recent incidents by four 1500s involving criminal activity and poor judgment have left veteran officers embarrassed and discouraged, while many younger cops are defensive.
Fraternal Order of Police President Sam Abegg urged residents to look past negative news and support the majority of good, dedicated officers.
“Don’t judge us all by the actions of a few,” Abegg said.
“If you’re in need of dire enough assistance and that person shows up, they are still going to be there to help you,” he said.
Abegg said police working the street have that attitude.
“On a hot call, when you need back up, you’re glad they’re there,” Abegg said.
Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson said the actions of Laron Leslie, David Finley, Marla Guye and Jason Johnson are not typical of the police department.
“Certainly, you can’t paint everyone with a broad brush. I’ve always said we expect our officers and employees to be law-abiding,” she said.
The actions of the four “reflect on them and their character, not everyone.”
Leslie was fired in May for testing positive for marijuana after a Sept. 25, 2011, one-car crash in his take-home squad; Finley resigned shortly after he was charged in federal court with dealing marijuana and cocaine and making an illegal handgun purchase; Guye was arrested Oct. 23 in Oklahoma after police found 48 pounds of marijuana in a car she rented in Arizona; Johnson is seen in a video shot on a Tarrytown street earlier this month. The video includes people smoking marijuana and boasting about doing it in the presence of police.
The “1500s” tag refers to the computer identification numbers assigned to three newest groups of officers hired since the city began selecting anyone on the eligibility list, rather than hiring top scorers first.
Former Mayor Rudy Clay and the Gary City Council wanted more Gary residents on the force, so an ordinance adopted in June 2007 altered the process. Clay and then-Chief Thomas Houston won power to hand-pick 10 new officers.
In February 2008, the first all-Gary class was sworn in. For the next three months, the training division prepared the group to attend the academy.
Aware that the change in hiring was controversial, the administration took extra steps to ensure candidates succeeded.
“We have high hopes for them,” then-Cmdr. Sam Roberts said.
In that group, disciplinary matters have been less prominent. Patrolman Shanisha Emmons was punished when she fell asleep driving her squad car home after working overtime. Patrolman Gerald Richardson served a 400-day unpaid suspension for taking a fellow officer’s gun from a locker in the station booking area. He has returned to work and a separate complaint against him was dismissed.
The police commission recently advertised for applicants, beginning a lengthy process that includes written, physical agility, psychiatric and other tests.
Freeman-Wilson said she hasn’t decided how any new hires will be selected. But she praised the work by Houston and former chief Lt. Lawrence Wright, who provided the extensive pretraining.
“That is a model way of doing it,” she said.
The third group, mostly Gary residents, began their careers in August 2011 and have completed their probationary first year successfully.
Abegg noted that one conspicuous difference in the revised hiring process other than the residency preference is background checks.
When Abegg joined the department, his prior history was closely scrutinized, but that doesn’t happen now.
“Back then, they did a detailed character search. If they were doing it that way, they probably could have weeded some of these individuals out,” he said.
Abegg added that the city’s goal to increase the number of residents on the department is worthy, “but it should not be the sole reason.”
The mayor agreed.
“We are cognizant that parameters are important. Residency is also important,” she said. Her goal is to hire “the best candidates and increase the number of Gary residents on our force.”