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Gary cops’ traffic blitz snares 52 tows

Officer Dawn Westerfield organizes where each group officers will patrol looking for violations Gary April 30 2014. | Jim Karczewsk/For

Officer Dawn Westerfield organizes where each group of officers will patrol looking for violations in Gary on April 30, 2014. | Jim Karczewsk/For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: June 2, 2014 10:06AM



GARY — Despite a friendly warning from the city’s communications director, who posted on Facebook about the upcoming traffic blitz, police found plenty of violators when they hit the streets Wednesday morning.

“Don’t shoot the messenger,” Chelsea Stalling Whittington wrote last week, adding that police set “zero tolerance” standards for expired license plates and other violations.

When 17 officers left the public safety facility, none of them had to travel far before finding a target.

Patrolman Kwata Osborne made three quick right turns from 555 Polk St., then hit his emergency lights on 6th Avenue, just across the street from where he started his day.

Traffic supervisor Sgt. Dawn Westerfield had measured off the distance from a fire hydrant to a Mercury sport utility vehicle. It was parked less than 15 feet from the hydrant, an ordinance violation. Thus, Osborne’s first tow of the day.

Noting that the SUV was parked in front of Thea Bowman Leadership Academy, Osborne said the car could belong to a teacher or parent. On another day, the officer might check with the school, but on Wednesday, the word was “tow.”

“We are under strict orders,” Osborne said.

An hour later, at least eight cars and a truck had been towed. As Osborne crisscrossed streets downtown, other police cars, with lights flashing, were stopped next to other improperly parked or plated cars.

Gary’s police information channel crackled with requests from officers needing tow trucks — “5th and Connecticut,” “501 Madison,” “6th and Maryland.”

While Osborne waited for a tow truck on 6th Avenue, he noticed a man park his car in front of Thea Bowman. As the man stepped out of the car, Osborne sent him a message over his car’s PA system, “Move your car.” The driver did, parking in the next block before retrieving a backpack he delivered to the school.

Cmdr. Michael Jackson said he plans to conduct a second, more expansive, towing effort on May 24.

“I hope to have 30 cars out there then,” he said, standing outside the police station. “No one is exempt. We started right here in this (station) lot. Had three so far, officers with expired plates.”

By the end of the day, police had towed 52 vehicles and issued at least that many tickets, Jackson said.

Osborne completed seven tows and issued five tickets. His only arrest was a woman who never obtained a driver’s license.

On Polk Street just north of 4th Avenue, Osborne saw a Ford Taurus station wagon parked with expired Illinois plates. The owner and her friend, who lives on the block, explained that the car had engine problems and asked if they could just move it, but Osborne didn’t yield.

He did allow the owner to remove belongings from the car and waited while she hauled children’s toys, garbage bags stuffed with clothing and some small furniture from the back.

Cars are towed to impound lots throughout Gary, where owners can retrieve them after obtaining a release from the police department at a cost of $50. But to get the release, the owner needs proof of a valid license plate. In the meantime, the owner is on the hook for towing and storage fees.



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