Greg Mance likens himself to a coach of a team, or a leader of a band. However, he doesn't wear a whistle or sing vocals. His uniform and badge tell a story of nearly two decades of fighting crime in Northwest Indiana.
"I've seen the best and worst of human life," Mance said.
Mance began his career in the Griffith Police Department in 1999 as a patrol officer. Now, 18 years later as the chief of police, he works with the 33 officers who make up Griffith's police force. Mance said he is fortunate to belong to a strong team so he can spend less time managing his staff and more time on data analysis and building community partnerships.
"It frees me up to venture outside of the normal role as police chief and find alternative ways to reduce crime," Mance said. "Thinking outside the box to find ways we can better respond to issues. We are constantly evaluating data to make sure we keep crime low and the needs of our community are being met."
Robert Bubala, an officer with the Volunteer Emergency Services Team, has worked with Mance for four years, and has seen his dedication to the community firsthand.
"Our crime rates have gone down, new initiatives are being implemented, and existing ones are being improved," Bubala said. "Also, with all of this work, himself and members of his department are more visible in the community, which helps with relations and lets the public know the officers are there for the residents of Griffith."
Heroin's comeback in the Region has been a major issue Mance and the officers have been targeting, but they don't do it alone. Over the years, Mance has worked to create bonds with mental health services and resources in the Region, as well as addiction treatment centers, to help those struggling with substance abuse and mental and emotional issues, "to address the problem before it becomes a crime issue."
"The courts are overwhelmed, we can't just arrest people, put them in jail and expect things to change. We need a new approach and I think we are starting to see that. Our crime rates have gone down at least 10 percent every year since I've been chief," Mance said. "And a large part of that is the work of the officers, but we are not just attacking the symptoms. We are attacking the root of the issue that causes crime."
Mance said he has seen law enforcement trend toward similar prevention tactics, but there's still a ways to go.
"I think we are leading the way in the Region ... but we are not the only unit doing this," Mance said. "Based on the success we have been seeing, I think we will become a model for others, along with other progressive departments in the area."
After Mance graduated from Indiana University Northwest with a bachelor's degree in criminal justice in 1999, he intended to work in his hometown of Merrillville. However, he ended up applying to Griffith's Police Department first, and after being accepted, he worked as a patrol officer for two years. He then served as a supervisor for two years and in 2003 he was assigned to the detective bureau, also serving as an investigator and eventually commander of the Northwest Indiana Major Crimes Task Force.
There he worked on cases such as murder and theft, investigating more than 30 homicide cases and hundreds of general investigations in his 10 years in the detective bureau.
"I never intended to be chief of police," Mance said.
But when the position opened up in 2013, Mance said he saw an a opportunity to use his education and experience to move the department in a positive direction and was chosen by the Town Council.
The biggest challenge the police chief and his squad face? Not scheming criminals, but the officers' own expectations.
"We strive to be perfect," Mance said. "We want to see zero burglaries every month, no heroin overdoses every month, zero crime; it's not a realistic expectation, but we still make it our goal."
Mance's goals are simple: Make the people of Griffith feel safe, provide a path to recovery for those suffering from addiction and mental health issues, and get his officers home safe every night. The solution, however is not as simple.
He said resolving a problem as chief of police is not as clear-cut as handcuffs and an arrest, and can't be fixed by police alone. The town's partnership with its police force is something Mance is grateful for. Organizations like Griffith Neighborhood Spotlight and businesses such as the YMCA and Mansard Apartments work with the department in addressing the issues the community faces, along with schools and churches in the town.
"Everyone has always been very supportive," he said. "We are very fortunate to have officers who are thanked on a daily basis, whether when stopping at a gas station or going to a call, people thank them for what they're doing. I will say the criminal element is more of a challenge today than it has been. They're a little more emboldened by current events, they're more likely to push the officers and push the system. In some ways it's a tougher day to be a police officer because of that element. But on the other side of the community, we see so much support that it all equals out."
Mance, to this day, said he still keeps in contact with the people he connected with from his time as a detective and patrol officer. One of his first homicide cases concerned a man who murdered his wife, in which there were two surviving children. Their grandmother recently sent photos of them, one of which is graduating high school this year.
"It's the greatest show on Earth, you get to see it all, sometimes it's depressing, but even with the depressing cases the best thing is the connections I have formed," Mance said. "I routinely speak to some of the survivors or relatives of victims of the homicides. You work those cases very hard, and you make those connections, and those are connections that stay with you your whole life. It's not a crazy story, it's not a funny story, but it's the story that means the most to me."