Black Oak residents fed up with gang violence
by Lori Caldwell firstname.lastname@example.org | 648-3258 July 11, 2012 4:50PM
Renee Hartman stands in from of her home where a stray bullet shattered windows on her daughter's SUV Sunday night and then hit the house just below the left shutter where her bedroom is in the Black Oak section of Gary, Ind. Tuesday July 10, 2012. Shootings have increased in the area and residents are fed up with what they say is slow police response. | Stephanie Dowell~Sun-Times Media
Updated: August 13, 2012 1:32PM
GARY — Renee Hartman is tired of watching and waiting.
After watching men fire guns at each other from her driveway, hearing gunfire close to home almost daily, then waiting too long for police response, the Black Oak resident has had enough.
Worried more about her grandchildren than herself, Hartman is angry, frustrated and unhappy with the lack of police presence in her neighborhood.
Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 61 President Sam Abegg shares her concerns.
“What people want is to see squad car driving up and down their street. But right now people can sit on their front porch for 12 hours and not see that,” Abegg said.
But financial problems, staffing limitations and officers working special assignments limit the number of men and women in patrol.
Abegg said he has been meeting with patrol Cmdr. Jon Cooros and Chief Wade Ingram about establishing staffing minimums for each patrol shift.
In the meantime, the latest increase in violence has forced Hartman and several neighbors to stay indoors around the clock.
“If my grandkids want to catch fireflies they should be able to,” she said. “We shouldn’t have to be afraid to live in our own homes.”
Her daughter, Kristina Leviner, lives just down the block with her six children, who are mostly forbidden to use the playhouse, swing set and wading pool in their yard.
“It’s quiet right now, but then it picks back up,” she said Tuesday morning. “My kids know when they hear gunshots to get on the floor. No child should have to know that.”
Investigators say a recent Latin Kings gang “initiation” and some vacant houses near 25th Avenue and Burr Street are two major contributors to the increase in shootings.
Two people were wounded during the weekend.
Hartman and Leviner are surprised there aren’t more.
A bullet lodged in the siding at Hartman’s home this weekend. Leviner said her sister’s SUV, parked nearby, slowed the shot that could have hit one of her parents as they slept in their bed.
“Police aren’t arresting anybody and the city isn’t going to pay to fix your car windows,” Leviner said, pointing to her sister’s car with its two new glass panes.
Even with 10 new rookies just released on the street July 1, the number of officers in patrol is still lower than previous years.
Typically, two or three officers are assigned to each of four sectors during the day. Black Oak is part of “Charlie,” which includes everything west of Chase Street.
Most calls, such as residential alarms, domestic disputes or shots fired, require two officers to respond.
With so few officers and the usual activity on warm summer nights, the response time is often an hour or more.
On Sunday night, Hartman watched a man fire shots from a van as several teens ran east near her yard. She called 911 at 9:18 p.m. but didn’t see an officer until after 10 p.m.
Police tell her the would-be gang members have scanners and know when they are in the area and suggested Hartman and her family members “just stay inside.”
“Where’s the police protection?” Leviner asked. Even though she owns her home, she is looking for a rental where she can live safely with her children.
“It’s play for these people to run free while my kids live in a cage?” she asked.
Ingram said he will tell Cooros to have the Crime Suppression Unit “saturate” Black Oak, and said he hopes to establish neighborhood watch groups there.
In addition, local ministers who want to address criminal activity will be in the Black Oak area later this month, Ingram said through the department spokeswoman Cpl. Gabrielle King.