Investigators work at the scene of a homicide near 12th and Taft in Gary in January 2013. | Post-Tribune file photo
Updated: January 1, 2014 11:01PM
GARY — Fifty-five people died violent deaths in Gary last year — the most since 2007, when the city experienced 71 homicides.
The total for 2013 is up 28 percent over 2012, but the number of shootings decreased by 30 percent, police said.
Both Indianapolis and Fort Wayne report increases in violent deaths in 2013, compared to 2012.
And while the numbers shift, as they do every year, some statistics recur again and again.
Most of the victims were young, black men. And most were shot.
Many of the men who died had a history of criminal activity and others were killed while committing a crime.
But there were victims with no criminal past.
Mary Austgen, 76, was taken from her family-owned business in Griffith and found shot to death in the Buffington Harbor garage on March 29. An Illinois man, Ralph P. Martinez, 57, was later charged with murder, robbery and criminal confinement.
Zan Davenport, 75, loved by family and neighbors alike, was beaten to death in his Glen Park apartment Dec. 14. Relatives and detectives remain puzzled by what motivated his killer — or killers.
His case remains unsolved.
The city’s youngest victim, 5-month-old Syrus Morgan, died from brain injuries at a Chicago hospital Oct. 22 after he grew listless at his mother’s Aetna home. Police are waiting for a report from the Cook County medical examiner before presenting charges to prosecutors in Lake County. Both the infant’s mother and her boyfriend were questioned and released, pending felony charges.
By month, homicides peaked in July, with 11 deaths. The spike prompted Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson to seek help from Gov. Mike Pence, asking him to send Indiana State Police troopers to the city to boost police visibility.
The governor balked at the request, instead offering an assessment team to examine the department and determine the best way to aid the city. The assessment was completed in early October and revealed a laundry list of problems, including lackluster supervision, low morale, shoddy equipment, bad record-keeping and the failure of officers to follow direct orders.
In a 13-page report, the State Police offered to provide a broad spectrum of training and made several suggestions, including moving officers from various task forces to increase the numbers in patrol. Although the police administration claims patrol officers now make up 66 percent of the department compared to 40 percent six months ago, most of that increase came from reassigning front desk workers. While those officers are now technically “patrol officers” because they report to patrol supervisors, they do not work in the street. Many of them can’t, because of physical problems or because some are facing felony charges.
Ingram said he plans to increase training for his supervisors beyond what the state requires for annual certification.
The decrease in shootings last year gives the police chief hope his department can replicate those results in other categories.
“We did a good job getting shootings down,” Chief Wade Ingram said.
Fraternal Order of Police President Samuel Abegg said he’d like to see an increase of officers in patrol beyond the minimum staffing levels established in the bargaining agreement with the city. But he added that it’s important to have a plan.
“They need to have a focus on what they want to accomplish,” he said, adding that the reduction in gunshot victims is encouraging, but a crackdown in the areas where they are occurring, and a better idea of what led to the violence, could bring results.
“After all,” Abegg said, “those shootings are just unsuccessful attempts by criminals to commit homicide.”
Ingram has sent Crime Suppression Unit officers to visit shooting victims in an effort to reduce retaliation. He said he will continue that in the coming year.
One practice Ingram employed early in the year was to focus patrols in “hot spots.” The chief said he plans to employ that tactic more often in 2014. When the city conducted saturated patrols in Glen Park last year, criminal activity dropped significantly. Ingram said he likes monthly sweeps with other departments and wants to organize others for Gary officers.
Ingram said his administration focused on reorganization and management issues within the department in 2013, but the new year will bring other changes.
“I want the command staff out on the streets, and not just 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.,” Ingram said Monday after meeting with his department leaders.
“I can write memos until I’m blue in the face, but commanders, and myself included, need to get out there and see for ourselves what is going on,” he said. “Boots on the ground.”
Sending commanders to patrol will increase visibility, Ingram said, but he believes it will also improve morale.
“We’ll be out there on the weekends, and at night,” he said. “We can see what is working and what isn’t.”