GARY | It started with just a look. A "funny," quick glance the driver gave to Gary police Officer Don Briggs. But it was enough.
As Briggs went to pull him over Tuesday night, the driver tossed his wallet out of his window and under Briggs' squad. It turns out, the man was wanted on a warrant for escaping a work-release program in Hendricks County, Ind., Briggs said.
With the new Region STOP Team, no bust — or suspicious glance — is too small. Because you never know what crime you could be preventing or what wanted person you might find.
"I'm a big proponent of car stops," East Chicago Police Chief Mark Becker said, as he steered his squad through Gary's Glen Park and Tolleston neighborhoods Tuesday.
Becker was joined by 11 other officers, split among the Steel City's hottest spots. By night's end, the group had stopped several cars and arrested at least four people.
The STOP Team has been taking Becker's logic to the streets in Gary and East Chicago in recent weeks. The mindset: Crime crosses city borders, and so should the officers charged with addressing it.
"We're shorthanded, so if you take 15 guys and put them in the city for four hours or eight hours, three to four times a week, it makes a big difference," Briggs said.
Briggs' alertness made a difference Tuesday on one of the group's stops.
Briggs pulled over a car along 49th Street, being driven by someone with a suspended license. A search of his car revealed part of a broken crack pipe and a scale and other marijuana-rolling materials.
The red flag for Briggs? A broken tail light.
"That's all it takes," Becker said.
All it took for another bust was spotting a man ambling away from a gas station known for criminal activity.
Officers leaned the man against the SUV of Lake County Deputy Police Chief Dan Murchek, searching his pockets and white sneakers.
After running the man's name, they discovered he had a warrant for littering.
"That's a first," Lt. Samuel Roberts said with a laugh. Roberts, the leader of STOP's Gary officers, called their consistent sweeps "sort of like fishing."
"We have some nights when you go, go, go and nothing," Roberts said. "These small things we do at the street level makes the difference."
For the team, the difference comes, too, in their show of force. Four squads Tuesday stopped a driver at an auto body shop for not wearing a seat belt. The stop didn't result in arrests, but did in angst for one of the shop workers.
"I'm running a business," he said from inside the garage. "This is bad for business."
But, police wager, it could ultimately be good for the city.