Criminal Justice

As Gary Passes Homicide Milestone, Police Chief Reaches Out To Families

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October 14, 2013

Monday, Gary equaled the number of homicides for all of 2012.  There are 43 homicides so far this year, which is still down from the recent peak of 54 homicides in 2010 or the 110 murders that happened in 1993.  Efforts are underway both inside and outside of the city to get a handle on the violence and tackle long-standing issues with the police department, which has seen numerous changes at the top.  Amid that backdrop, Gary Police Chief Wade Ingram has found a personal way to connect with the killings in his city.

For more than a year, Ingram has brought a group of ministers to the homes of each Gary Indiana family who lost someone to homicide. It began in April 2012, four months after he became chief under the incoming administration of Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson.  A 19 year old, former Lew Wallace high school track star, Brelen McGee was killed on a night that included four other shootings. Ingram was the first car on the scene. When other officers arrived he decided to visit with the family.

This year the chief said violent crime is down in the city, in nearly every category, including shootings, but not homicide. Still far below the level in the 1990s and early 2000s when the city was often dubbed the Murder Capital of the US, Gary  is now expected to surpass the number of deaths from 2012.

One of those deaths was 39 year old DeWayne Young, who was shot to death in his car in September. Ingram and a group of police chaplains from local churches crowded into a small living room on Virginia Street to meet his mother Shirley Young, who shook as each minister delivered a short sermon.

In the car, on the way to another family, Ingram said he doesn’t doubt the visits have some police value. He imagines that he is building a rapport with families, who are often leery of police. He worked with the group Ceasefire when he was Chicago police. Among the group’s goals is to attempt to stop gang members from retaliating after a shooting. But Ingram said his decision to visit families is not a policing tactic.

“Not a strategy, it’s just something that I humanly do,” Ingram said.

Homicides have been running ahead of last year for most of the year. In July, Gary officials asked Indiana’s Republican Governor Mike Pence for help. Instead of sending troopers, as the city requested, the governor offered an Indiana State Police assessment of the department. Their recently released report found long-standing problems with lack of training, outdated equipment and gaps in accountability, including a lack of respect for the chain of command, according to ISP Spokesman Capt. Dave Bursten.

“There are things you can do with ordinances. There are things you can do to let the chief be the chief,” he said.

Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson issued a statement after the report saying the city is reviewing the findings. Ingram said he appreciated the state police officer to help train officers. He said some of the ideas have merit.  The city is also investing manpower the newly created region STOP Team, which uses crime data to blanket areas with offers from several departments.

“We’ll make our own assessment of the assessment,” Ingram said.

The Indiana state police promise to follow up in December on with another evaluation, as well as provide training assistance. The idea of having state troopers patrol the street while Gary trains another round of new officers isn’t off the table, according to Bursten. While all of the serious work of bolstering the department goes on, Ingram will take some of his time to forge a connection with the people who understand the city’s violence problem better than anyone else.

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