RICH JAMES: Razy Gary buildings to address crime

2013-09-22T00:00:00Z RICH JAMES: Razy Gary buildings to address crimeBy Rich James nwitimes.com
September 22, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Gary is a breeding ground for gangs, drugs and violence. It doesn’t need to hang out a welcome sign. The bad guys know.

It also is home to thousands of wonderful people who deserve all the local, state and federal help that can be provided.

To that end, what Lake County Sheriff John Buncich had to say last week was right-on.

In a letter to Gov. Mike Pence, Buncich asked the state for financial help to raze as many as 10,000 abandoned buildings.

“In many cases, vacant properties are used for illicit gang and drug activities and are also a danger to the residents within these neighborhoods,” Buncich wrote.

For decades, Gary residents have been calling the sheriff’s drug-tip hotline begging for help in getting rid of drug dealers operating next door or down the block. Their pleas were often through a bevy of tears.

Buncich said the abandoned buildings are havens for gangs, drug dealers, homicides and sexual assaults.

Those buildings also are eyesores – perhaps the greatest deterrent for any business or developer coming into Gary.

There has been a renewed focus on Gary crime since a spike in homicides led to Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson’s July call for help.

Unfortunately, that plea resulted in the Pence patrol – a law enforcement committee headed by the state police.

That committee is expected to tell Gary what it is doing right and wrong, but isn’t likely to lead to a reduction in homicides. The problem is too complex.

Yet I suspect it is a warm and fuzzy kind of thing for Pence, who can say he helped Gary and then close the file.

The STOP initiative launched by East Chicago Police Chief Mark Becker has urban police departments working together increasing police patrols across north county. Early indications are that it is making a difference.

But the STOP team can’t tear down houses. Nope, that takes money, lots of it.

Gary doesn’t have it, but with $2.6 billion in the bank, the state does.

Fifteen years ago, Operation Crackdown, which was funded with a $2.3 million federal grant, tore down 175 drug houses in Gary.

Neighbors cheered as the houses were razed. Some residents, who were given a reason for hope, baked cookies for the workers.

The Republican-controlled state and Democratic U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky, a Gary native, should come together for the city. I would think the feds would match any state contribution to tear down homes. What a novel concept, real government working for the people.

Pence likes to boast about the $2.6 billion surplus, and likely will if he runs for president.

But it is time to use some of that Rainy Day Fund. It is pouring in Gary, and the boat is taking on water.

Rich James has been writing about state and local government and politics for more than 30 years. Email him at rjames@219.com. The opinions are the writer’s.

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