Lakeshore News Tonight

Sheriff Buncich To Pence: Demolish Vacant Properties, Lower Crime

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Murders in Gary this year have increased, with a death toll now at 40.  That number nearly surpasses the total number of homicides for all of 2012.  Some residents have even lost hope.

“It is what it is basically.  Folks will do what they do until they put an end to it,” said Phillip Lundy, a Gary resident.

Lake County Sheriff John Buncich said his department has been working with Gary law enforcement against gun violence, drugs and gang activity.

“We have a minimum of eight to 12 officers daily that we deploy into the City of Gary, whether it be gang intelligence, drug units, CSI officers,” said Sheriff Buncich.

Those efforts are simply not enough.  Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson appealed to Governor Mike Pence early this summer to send Indiana State Police to Gary to help deter crime.  Buncich said the governor’s staff has been in several meetings with him and Gary officials discussing internal improvements and a cooperative plan of action to fight crime.   But Buncich wants to take a different approach.

“Deployment of officers would be a good thing, but it’s only going to be a temporary fix.  One way, maybe a long term fix, would be to destroy these properties that are within the City of Gary that are in large part leading to a lot of crime.  Gang members are using these abandoned properties and it’s also destroying the neighborhoods from within,” Buncich said.

The sheriff said not if the homes are destroyed first.  Buncich penned a letter this week stating he wants the governor to consider deploying Indiana Corps of Engineer Personnel, instead of state police, to demolish abandoned properties.

“There’s an overwhelming amount.  In estimate, talking with City officials, they say it’s in the thousands, thousands of homes and abandoned properties that would have to be destroyed.  They just simply don’t have the money.  All of their money has virtually run out already this year.  This would be of great assistance to them,” said Buncich.

Buncich said during his previous term as sheriff in the 1990s, he worked with First District U.S. Representative Peter Visclosy, Gov. Evan Bayh and other state and federal officials to demolish scores of structures in the City of Gary.  The letter states that the governor at that time ordered Indiana National Guard Personnel and heavy equipment to demolish as many abandoned buildings as possible.

“It’s like it ain’t no hope here.  It’s a dead city, dead town,” said Lundy.

Though it might appear to be the end of the road for some,  Buncich believes a resurrection plan is needed to help residents.

“They have to be destroyed.  Boarding up is not going to solve the problem.  They’re decayed.  They’re burned out buildings.  They’re causing a danger for the residents in the area.  They’re causing a danger for the children in and around that may come upon it.  It’s leading to a lot of vermin.  It’s just decay within,” said Sheriff Buncich.

Buncich said there has been no word from the governor’s office in response to his letter.

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