Community Reacts to Officer’s Death
Officer Jeffrey Westerfield served with the Gary Police Department for 19 years before he was gunned down in the line of duty July 6th. As police and local volunteers search for answers to how and why Westerfield was killed, the city and state are remembering a man that many have hailed as a hero.
The Gary Police Department is in mourning. On July 6th Officer Jeffrey Westerfield was found unresponsive in his patrol car in the 2600 block of Van Buren Street with a gunshot wound to the head.
During a press conference, Gary Police Chief Wade Ingram remembered Westerfield, saying “He’s well-liked, he’s a K-9 officer, he’s a traffic officer, his ex-wife is a Gary police officer, so it’s a close-knit family.”
The police and the city were joined in their grief by Indiana Governor Mike Pence, who traveled to the Gary police station to meet with Westerfield’s family, including his four daughters. Pence remarked “Officer Jeffrey Westerfield was a hero to people in this community, he is a hero to all the people of Indiana.”
Gary Mayor Karen-Freeman Wilson says Officer Westerfield was in the area that morning responding to a follow-up call from an earlier domestic dispute. A person involved in that dispute was detained for questioning early in the investigation. Freeman-Wilson told reporters “We are fairly confident that the person of interest who is in custody is in fact the person who is responsible for this heinous act.”
The death of one of their own is a painful reminder of the violence Gary officers work to combat each day. During a spike in violent crime last year, the mayor sought assistance from state police. Pence says the state of Indiana worked in close cooperation with public safety leadership in Gary and across the region to develop a series of recommendations. Freeman-Wilson added, “There are also recommendations that are coming down this month as a result of our request to the Department of Justice to make some suggestions.”
Ingram says 10 new officers have been added since the state police recommendations were issued last fall, and 15 new officers will be added next month. “One of the things I’m looking at is implementing a policy where officers working the evening and midnight shift work in pairs instead of working alone.” says Ingram. “I know that can be a safety issue in many situations. So that’s something under review. I’m also, effective immediately, putting more officers on the streets, taking officers out of specialized units.”
But as officials search for long-term solutions, the community is focusing its attention on supporting the family and officers who knew Jeffrey Westerfield.
Wednesday the Patriot Guard Riders along with several local motorcycle clubs rallied in front of the police station to help raise funds for the Westerfield family. Ron Brehmer, Communications Officer for the Unforgotten Souls Motorcycle Club, says “It actually started off with three clubs and about 20 bikes, and because of social media it turned into what it turned into today.” More than 400 riders passed by the patrol car parked in front of the building as a memorial, each one dropping a rose for the fallen officer. Brehmer believes “It speaks to how the community feels about their police, that they support their police, and it speaks to how people, especially police, fire, and military, are willing to stand up for brotherhood.” Ingram added “I think it raises the morale. I think it raises the spirit. I think it’s encouraging to see this kind of turn out for one of our own.”
Governor Pence summed up his feelings by saying “We mourn with those who mourn and we grieve with those who grieve in this state. And I know that I speak on behalf of millions of Hoosiers when I say that the service and sacrifice of Officer Jeff Westerfield will never be forgotten.”
Visitation for Officer Westerfield is scheduled for Sunday afternoon with the funeral to follow on Monday.