Several media outlets attended the City of Gary's press conference on crime reduction in Gary on July 28, 2014. | Jim Karczewski/For Sun-Times Media
Updated: August 30, 2014 6:09AM
GARY — Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson, who campaigned for office with the vow to “eradicate crime” in the city, now calls it a “seemingly intractable issue.”
But she has a plan, a team and a new police chief to combat the crime problem.
In a standing-room-only news conference Monday at city hall, the mayor introduced Police Chief Larry McKinley, who replaces Wade Ingram, and announced some new initiatives designed to improve the police department’s morale and make the city safer.
The mayor said the nature of some crimes in the past two months are “some of the most heinous murders seen in decades” and wondered why the public isn’t outraged.
“If we acknowledged our sense of outrage and loss, then we would do something about it,” she said.
While homicides are down more than 30 percent from the same time last year (22 compared with 32), Freeman-Wilson named several recent victims killed in the city and said, “their murders have a direct impact on our image of our community, the ability to attract business and investment and our sense of hope and promise.”
Most of those she named were an atypical murder victim: including 19-year-veteran Patrolman Jeff Westerfield, gunned down in his squad car, a United Airlines flight attendant allegedly killed by her daughter’s boyfriend and a Brunswick area father stabbed to death at his home, allegedly by his son, who’s also charged with killing his mother in Merrillville.
Most of those she didn’t mention are young black men involved in criminal activity that led directly or indirectly to their demise. As a way to humanize the impact of these deaths, the mayor plans to launch a website that will focus on each homicide victim and tell the story of their life.
Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 61 president Sam Abegg was in the audience during the hour-plus news conference. Afterward, he said boosting morale will take more than the salary bonus that McKinley mentioned during his brief speech.
“Compensation is the No. 1 reason morale is low,” Abegg said.
As for the proposed community outreach plans announced by the mayor, Abegg said the rank-and-file were not consulted.
“We have direct knowledge as it relates to the deficiencies within the department and sustainable objectives as it relates to crime reduction,” he said.
Parts of the new program are modeled after New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s “NOLA for Life” campaign and will be tagged “Gary for Life,” Freeman-Wilson said.
Landrieu offered advice to Gary leaders during conference calls in recent weeks. His plan joins churches and non-profit agencies in reaching out to the community and providing alternative activities and intervention.
Mary Cossey, the city’s constituent services director, said she will coordinate on the four points of the initiative — enforcement, rehabilitation, intervention and prevention.
Freeman-Wilson said the city will install a “community prevention line” for residents to report issues that may not be immediate criminal matters but are problems that need attention.
“The most important aspect of this initiative is what occurs outside of city hall,” she said.
The mayor said reporting crime, watching out for neighbors and volunteering with some of the “many groups that are working to motivate the next generation” are things residents need to do to improve living conditions in Gary.