Gary officials map plan to reduce homicides in 2013
by Lori Caldwell firstname.lastname@example.org | 648-3258 December 31, 2012 8:46PM
Gary Police Reservce Patrolman Kenneth Clinton examines a .22 caliber handgun turned in for the city's gun buy back program at Pilgrim Baptist Church in Gary, Ind. Saturday December 29, 2012. Several church's across town, including Pilgrim, served as drop-off locations for the guns in exchange for gift cards. | Stephanie Dowell~Sun-Times Media
Updated: February 2, 2013 6:11AM
When Wade Ingram arrived a year ago to lead the Gary Police Department, burglars had the run of the city, striking homes in every neighborhood, often during daylight hours.
The good news is burglaries were down 25 percent for 2012. Ingram said he tackled the problem by several means, including an expanded burglary team.
In the meantime, homicides went up 22 percent over 2011, with an unofficial total of 43 violent deaths in the city.
“Now I will shift my focus to violent crime, shootings and homicides,” Ingram said last week.
Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson agreed, saying homicides in the last two months — 10, or almost 25 percent of the year’s total — is of particular concern to her.
Both the chief and mayor acknowledge the shortage of patrol officers on the street makes work easier for criminals and more dangerous for cops on the beat.
Ingram plans to increase visibility in 2013 by ordering officers who work administrative jobs to spend two days per month in patrol. The Crime Suppression Unit can also be assigned patrol duties, and detectives will continue to spend part of their time on the street, he said.
‘People have become immune’
Of the 43 homicides, 34 were men, and of those, all but one died of a gunshot wound. Remains found Aug. 1 have yet to be identified or the cause of death determined. Nine women were killed in 2012, but only three were shot. Female remains found April 7 are still unidentified and the cause of death pending.
Ingram said he wanted to move 500 guns off the street last year, and accomplished that through a series of city-sponsored buy-backs, offering Walmart gift cards in exchange for handguns, rifles and assault weapons. The most recent buy-back was Saturday, with 68 guns received.
“Less guns, less violence,” Ingram said.
But while the nation mourned and politicians postured for tougher gun laws after the mass slaying in Newtown, Conn., last month, Gary has shown little outcry for the loss of their own victims.
“People have become immune,” Ingram said. Several anti-violence rallies in areas where homicides occurred have drawn small numbers, but Ingram said he has seen more participants with each march.
Last year’s youngest victim was 2-year-old Joriah Henderson, shot accidentally by her 3-year-old half-sister in mid-January. Her father, a convicted felon, was charged with neglect of a dependant.
The oldest victim was Diana Parkinson, 77, who was knocked down March 6 by a resident of the nursing home where she lived. She died from blunt force trauma, but it was months before her death was ruled a homicide.
The average age of slain men last year was 29 years old and the majority were black Gary residents. Most of them had criminal backgrounds or were involved in a crime when they were killed.
Freeman-Wilson acknowledged many homicides were drug- or gang-related, although the city doesn’t have the highly organized gang activity similar to the gang wars of the 1970s.
“It’s more in the neighborhood, ‘this is my crew’ kind of thing,” the mayor said.
Ingram said investigators can’t always identify a motive for deadly crimes, particularly if it involved retaliation.
Often, shooting victims who survive don’t tell police the truth about what led to their injuries.
Medical care saves lives
Of the 152 people shot in 2012, Ingram said many should be grateful they are alive. He credits The Methodist Hospitals Northlake campus emergency room for outstanding work.
“Easily 75 percent, maybe even 100 percent, could be dead. Thank God for the surgeons,” he said.
The mayor also praised the hospital for its excellent emergency response, saying she wants a trauma center built here.
Ingram reached out to crime-riddled neighborhoods in 2012, holding roll call for patrol units at the scenes of recent homicides, organizing local ministers to walk the streets where crimes have occurred and participating in anti-crime marches.
“Every little bit helps,” Ingram said. “But it’s not going to stop murders.”
The chief said he is disappointed with the year’s increase in homicides and regrets halting the ministers’ work on street corners in September.
“I should have kept that going. We thought it would be cold. How could we know it would be 70 degrees in October?” Ingram said.
When the ministers’ program stopped, the city added 15 more homicides in the following weeks.
“I think it would have made a difference,” he said.
‘We don’t get up in arms’
Ingram acknowledged that morale among officers is low, but added that arrests, tickets and weapons seized are up.
“I know they want more money, but I’m not the money guy,” the chief said. The mayor hopes a county-wide tax levied specifically for public safety could ease the city’s money woes.
Freeman-Wilson believes bringing business, particularly manufacturing, to the city also will boost the budget, and that goal can be accomplished even as Gary fights its crime-ridden image.
“I am still not of the opinion that the only way to economic development is to improve public safety,” she said.
Using crime statistics, and working with Indiana University Northwest to identify city crime “hot spots,” should bring positive results, the mayor suggested.
“Every time I got an e-mail or text about the loss of another life, it is something that gives me great pause. As a community, we all need to take ownership. We don’t get up in arms,” she said.
The shooting death in Portage of a Gary tow truck driver elicited a strong reaction from residents there and throughout the area.
“We should be the same way,” Freeman-Wilson said.