Regional police team wants to connect with community

2013-08-31T19:45:00Z 2013-12-28T21:27:44Z Regional police team wants to connect with communityChristine Kraly christine.kraly@nwi.com, (219) 933-4195 nwitimes.com

GARY | A young, shirtless boy peered into East Chicago Chief Mark Becker's squad last Monday and asked, meekly, if he had any doughnuts.

Why would he have doughnuts, Becker joked, because he is a cop?

Becker and the boy then parted ways. The following night, Becker was back in Gary on the Region STOP Team's increased patrols through Lake County's hottest crime spots. 

"I have to have doughnuts if I see this kid again," Becker said, as he stopped at a gas station to buy a package of chocolate pastries.

The treat is part of a greater show from STOP officers that they're not there in Gary or East Chicago just to police, but also to connect with community members.

Back at 23rd Street and Pierce, armed with the doughnuts, Becker eyeballed the intersection looking for the boy. 

The oppressive heat kept most people — and crime — behind closed doors. The boy never showed.

Soon after, Becker and STOP officers gathered around Gary police Officer Don Briggs' squad, reviewing a murder suspect's mugshot. Based on a tip, the group soon swarmed the Dorie Miller housing complex.

Children gathered, just feet from a squad where a number of men leaned over to be searched. Some kids simply rode their bikes, unfazed, past the officers scoping the yards.

Lt. Samuel Roberts, head of STOP's Gary unit, handed out police stickers to children, asking them about school.

"Interaction with police does not have to be negative," Roberts later said. "We don't want children to be afraid of the police." 

Becker said the team on Wednesday walked along East Chicago's crime-prone Guthrie Street, where some residents said they see an immediate impact with the daily patrols.

"It is that sustainability aspect," Becker said. "We are not leaving."

The greater impact from the team's efforts remains to be seen, and Joseph Ferrandino is working on seeing it.

Ferrandino, assistant professor of criminal justice at Indiana University Northwest, already culls stats for local police departments. He will be taking data on the new team's traffic stops, where they're spending their time, and ideally follow any cases through the court process to assess the effort's long-term success.

"We're starting to be able to put together a regional kind of picture, as opposed to, 'Here's your borders in Gary,' " Ferrandino said. "It's helpful that all these departments are acting on a regional, cooperative level."

The move toward regional crime fighting comes as Gary has sought help with violence in the Steel City.

In July, Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson requested Indiana State Police backup to augment the work of her officers. Gov. Mike Pence's response was to create a group of local, state and federal officials to examine the Gary Police Department and the plea.

East Chicago Mayor Anthony Copeland deemed the reactionary audit a "wake-up call to all of the cities."

"That's a sign we should work together," Copeland said. "We have to help ourselves before we expect help to come from a distance, from afar. That's what this STOP team gives us the ability to do."

Roberts agreed, saying, "The best thing to do is to demonstrate you can address issues on your own." 

"There's a lot of task forces out there," Becker said. "But at the end of the day, I'm responsible for the crime in East Chicago. (Gary Police Chief) Wade (Ingram) is responsible in Gary. Crime in Hammond is Chief Miller's. We are responsible for it."

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