Gary Chief of Police Wade Ingram. | Stephanie Dowell~Sun-Times Media
Updated: August 30, 2014 6:11AM
GARY — As part of a new plan to combat crime in the city, Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson on Monday appointed Larry McKinley as police chief, replacing Wade Ingram, whom she said resigned last week.
McKinley, who was deputy police chief, the department’s No. 2 position, introduced retired Capt. Thomas Papadakis as the new deputy chief. Papadakis, who served as deputy chief twice during previous administrations, joined the police force in 1977 and retired in August 2011.
McKinley and Papadakis are residents of Hobart. In her search for department heads after taking office in January 2012, Freeman-Wilson demanded that appointees live in the city.
Her requirement eliminated retired FBI agent Mark Becker, who had expressed a strong desire to work in Gary, where he led the multi-jurisdictional Gang Response Investigative Team for several years. Becker, however, refused to relocate and became police chief in East Chicago.
Freeman-Wilson said Monday that Gary’s priorities have changed, prompting her to alter her view on the residency of top police officials.
McKinley, who joined the Gary department in January 1999, began his career as a traffic officer and later was one of the first full-time crime scene investigators. A soft-spoken man known for his thoroughness, McKinley is well-liked by most of his co-workers. But many veteran officers expressed concern that his civil service rank of corporal has not prepared him for the leadership demands of the chief.
Papadakis, a highly regarded former investigator, is also popular, but like McKinley, many officers do not view him as a strong leader.
“To quote Abraham Lincoln, ‘If you want to test a man’s character, give him power,’ “ Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 61 president Sam Abegg said. “So, we’ll see.”
Rumors of Ingram’s imminent departure had circulated for weeks, and early this month he started clearing out his fourth-floor office at the Public Safety Facility. Ingram retired from the Chicago Police Department and came to Gary early in 2012 after a brief stint as chief in Markham, Illinois.
Ingram sometimes complained to his peers that he had little authority because most decisions came from city hall, according to sources within the department.
Freeman-Wilson has repeatedly denied that she is involved in day-to-day operations of the police department. Ingram was not available Monday for comment on his resignation.
A year ago, after a rash of homicides, the mayor asked for Indiana State Police troopers to help patrol in the city. Instead, Gov. Mike Pence ordered an assessment of the police department, which was released in October and suggested that the department had a multitude of internal problems that must be addressed before the state would step in.
Few of the recommendations have been implemented, including the study’s top priority of increasing the number of officers working the streets. Instead of pulling officers from task force duties and inside jobs to patrol, the administration simply reclassified officers working the front desk, property room and other necessary clerical jobs to the patrol division.
Their jobs didn’t change, but suddenly, on paper, it appeared the goal of increasing street patrols had been met. The Fraternal Order of Police has a contractual requirement for minimum staffing on each shift, but Abegg said the administration seems to view minimum staffing as maximum staffing.
McKinley acknowledged that he faces a “tremendous challenge” but said he and Papadakis will work to improve the department morale, hoping to achieve that by giving out salary bonuses and getting new equipment, including new cars.
He said the city plans to soon hire 14 officers, but they missed a chance to begin training Monday at the Northwest Indiana Law Enforcement Academy class and must now wait until at least November.