Sense of community stressed as crime deterrent

2013-10-27T00:00:00Z Sense of community stressed as crime deterrentLauri Harvey Keagle lauri.keagle@nwi.com, (219) 852-4311 nwitimes.com

When Dan McDevitt was growing up in the heart of Gary's then-thriving downtown district, if he misbehaved, his parents knew about it before he hit the front steps.

"It sounds cliche, but everyone else's parents got to you first before you got home," McDevitt said. "Everyone watched out for each other and worked to stop things before they escalated."

McDevitt went on to log more than 30 years in law enforcement and served as Lansing police chief. He now serves as principal at REM Management Services, a consulting firm specializing in security, training and management services for a host of entities including the U.S. State Department.

McDevitt's boyhood home is now a vacant lot after the house burned down following a police drug raid. The difference between Gary then and now, he said, is a sense of community.

McDevitt said he has reviewed the report commissioned by Indiana Gov. Mike Pence after Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson asked for state troopers to be sent to her city to assist in patrolling the streets after homicides spiked this summer.

Pence denied the request and instead recommended changes in the Gary Police Department's training, technology and evidence processing as well as a shift toward more officers on patrol.

Gary Police Chief Wade Ingram, whom McDevitt counts as a respected friend, already has shifted the focus to the patrol division. McDevitt said the move is an important first step, but much of the responsibility lies with the citizens themselves.

"If you put another 100 cops out there, without a sense of community, it doesn't matter," McDevitt said.

Cities with lower crime rates tend to have a tighter sense of community and more open communication with law enforcement, he said.

"When I hear about a fellow citizen who can't cooperate with cops, I say, 'Hey, at the end of the day, I go back to my house and they have to stay there,'" McDevitt said. "They don't believe the police believe their loved one is as significant a victim as somebody else."

Hammond's population is nearly identical to Gary's, just over 79,000. Hammond had only six homicides as of Oct. 10, compared with Gary's 42. Hammond's homicide rate is 8 per 100,000 residents while Gary's is 53.

Hammond Police Chief Brian Miller said his city's Neighborhood Watch programs help keep those numbers down.

"We had a neighborhood that was really out of control, and we partnered with neighbors who gave us tips," Miller said. "We have a very active Crime Watch throughout the city that calls in tips."

Miller said he also credits the better rate in his city in large part to his emphasis on gang- and narcotics-related crimes.

Of the six homicides in Hammond as of Oct. 10, five were drug-related and four were gang-related.

"In order to reduce the homicides, you have to attack the gang problem," Miller said.

The U.S. attorney's office helped Hammond with that goal with indictments of leaders of the Imperial Gangster Disciples, Miller said. One of the defendants was suspected in at least seven homicides.

Miller said Hammond police also dismantled a local street gang responsible for murders, carjackings and burglaries.

"All of these efforts play a role in reducing crime," he said. "We have to do it together at the neighborhood and regional level because it really is everyone's problem."

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