VALPARAISO | Despite experiencing two homicides in just over a month, Portage has had only a few more homicides than Valparaiso over the past 12 years, according to statistics provided by the county coroner's office.
Portage has had 10 homicides since 2001 and Valparaiso has had seven, with other areas of the county experiencing far fewer killings.
*Portage is leading the way this year with two homicides, as compared to one in Valparaiso, according to the Porter County Coroner's Office. This brings the number of homicides in the county so far this year to five -- the same as all of 2011 and the largest number for any single year since at least 2001.
"I don't think the sky is falling," Porter County Prosecutor Brian Gensel said when asked about the figures.
He said Porter County is blessed with a lower number of violent crimes than neighboring or similar-sized counties. This is likely due to the affluent nature of the county, he said.
Gensel said he has been told by former officials that the county's homicide rates were higher in the distant past.
Yet at the same time, Gensel said there is evidence of increased gang activity in the county from Chicago and neighboring Lake County, which traditionally brings along violent crimes. Police are responding with gang intelligence work and cooperative efforts, he said.
Portage Police Chief Troy Williams issued a statement last week assuring city residents that efforts are under way to keep them safe.
"Protecting our residents from outside influences is no new challenge to this Police Department," Williams said. "The message to the 'bad guys' who commit a crime in Portage will continue to be loud and clear; we will avail ourselves of all possible resources and will not rest until you are brought to justice."
Reviewing the list of homicides that have occurred across Porter County over the last decade or more, Gensel said in most cases, both the offender and victim knew each other. Random homicides almost never happen, he said.
"Law abiding citizens have very little risk of being killed," Gensel said.
There have been exceptions, he said, including the region-wide sprees of serial killer Eugene Britt and "shotgun killer" Christopher Peterson.
Williams pointing out that Monday's shooting death of Wilson Rivera, of Gary and Indianapolis, in the 2100 block of Crisman Road appears to be an isolated incident, which makes it similar to the Nov. 1 suspected murder-for-hire shooting that left Carl Griffith Sr. dead outside his home in the 2700 block of Locust Street.
Two are in custody for the Nov. 1 shooting and investigators continue their search for the person responsible for Rivera's death.
* This story has been corrected from an earlier version.
A story in Sunday's edition incorrectly listed a double homicide in April as occurring in Valparaiso. The killings actually occurred just outside the city limits in Center Township and Valparaiso police responded within four minutes.
The Times regrets the error.