East Chicago Police Chief Mark Becker said conflicts among gangs, and between gangs and police boil down to one thing: frustration.
“People who go to gangs become frustrated over what they have, what they can’t get and what they’ve lost,” he said.
“Police officers who continually respond to the same nonsense are … frustrated the legal system allows it to continue and frustrated that every day they have to be frustrated.”
Becker, who has 38 years of law enforcement experience, said gang members grow up in an environment that most police officers can’t identify with. It’s a world where violence is an everyday part of life, where drugs are used and sold.
He said gangs believe police don’t care. Officers do, Becker said, but they feel like they can’t effect change.
“It’s a street war,” he said. “It’s a war of gangs versus gangs, and gangs versus cops. When does it end? When does someone get to claim a victory? It’s like Groundhog Day.”
Becker said all sides want it to stop.
The key to that, he argued, is developing trust. And trust begins with respect.
“On both sides of the fence, we have to work harder with treating each other with respect,” Becker said.
He said he encourages officers to treat gang members as they would want members of their family treated. Slamming car doors and cussing isn’t going to improve the situation.
“I tell officers that their morals and their background and their upbringing are not applicable to the people you’re pulling over,” Becker said. “You can’t judge them.”
He said it takes five to seven positive impressions of police to combat a bad first impression.
Becker said his department is trying through community outreach and increased traffic patrols.
“We need to effect change one inch at a time,” he said. “But life isn’t full of inches. It’s full of days and hours. You can’t make a difference quickly, but, maybe down the road, it will equate to a mile worth of victory.
“I’m not saying we do it well, I’m saying we can do it better.”