GARY — City officials say they are trying to get out from behind the 8-ball to combat gun violence with recent approvals for police overtime and funding for a second, part-time maintenance crew that will tear down debris and mow lawns near blighted homes.
The Gary City Council last week approved a transfer of $50,000 of tax proceeds from Majestic Star Casino to cover additional overtime for city police officers in the aftermath of the June 22-24 gun violence that injured 15 and killed one.
Gary Council President Ron Brewer said the overtime will cover special police patrols for about one month.
Agencies like Indiana State Police, the Lake County Sheriff's Office, Indiana University Northwest and ATF that stepped in to assist shortly after Gary's deadly weekend last week can only do so much, Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson said.
"We're starting out with $50,000 and watching our expenditures while we have assistance from other agencies. We understood the immediate need for overtime, and we also understand our partners may not be in a position to beef up things forever," Freeman-Wilson said.
"Gary is not a money tree, but at the end of the day, we have to assure residents of their security."
With more law enforcement saturating the city's streets, Gary experienced a quiet week after what the mayor called an unusually violent weekend.
Since that weekend, a 19-year-old man was injured in a shooting June 28, and a 29-year-old man was shot and killed in the early morning hours on the Fourth of July in the 3400 block Pierce Street.
Brewer said he is amazed Gary didn't experience more fatalities over the June 22-24 weekend, with 15 people injured, including two who were struck by debris resulting from gunfire.
One person — 19-year-old Jazaniel Davis, of Merrillville — died over the June 22-24 weekend. Three others were injured in that shooting. In a separate incident, a teen boy was shot riding his bike.
"We have seen similar things of this nature, but this caught us off guard, where we have, in broad daylight, a 15-year-old being shot at. It’s a blessing people were saved, thanks to the Methodist hospital staff," he said.
The violence hits home, Brewer said.
"I have seen gun violence. I found one of my neighbors as a young paper boy dead down the street. And the families in our city affected, and in pain, it hits home," Brewer said.
Brewer said the council also approved last week a resolution bringing awareness to the city's gun violence and trafficking problem.
"We strongly disagree with the way firearms get in the hands of criminals so easily. The resolution is supportive of stricter gun laws in the state," Brewer said. "We disapprove of firearms and what it's doing to our community."
The council last week also approved an additional $100,000 in the General Services Department budget so the city can hire a second crew of part-time maintenance workers — a move often requested, and equally well-received, by Gary residents in the past.
The crew will work the noon-to-6 p.m. shift through Oct. 1 to clear out overgrown weeds and debris from abandoned, blighted homes — which often attract crime and squatters.
Freeman-Wilson said the GS department had close to 150 people under the former Mayor Rudy Clay's administration, but property tax caps and other fiscal challenges forced massive layoffs, she said.
The department eventually dwindled to 28 employees — responsible for cleaning public spaces, tree-trimming, filling pot holes and more. A second crew is much needed, the mayor said.
Some arrests have been made in connection with the June 22-24 shootings, and police are questioning gang associates and potential witnesses, according to Freeman-Wilson. She declined to comment further, citing the ongoing investigation.
Gary police Lt. Dawn Westerfield, department spokeswoman, and Gary police Cmdr. Jack Hamady, head of investigations, did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Investigators previously said they suspect most of the June 22-24 weekend's shootings are not related, with the exception of two shootings Sunday in Glen Park. Detectives still were trying to determine what led to violence at Ironwood Park, 1119 E. 24th Ave., late Saturday.
Police believe those responsible for a shooting near West Fifth Avenue and Grant Street about 12:30 a.m. Sunday were driving a red Chevrolet Monte Carlo.
In that case, a 20-year-old Gary man, a 17-year-old girl and a 22-year-old Indianapolis man were wounded when a vehicle pulled up alongside their car and someone began shooting at them.
Investigators have determined that a 32-year-old Gary man was injured by flying debris when his windshield was hit by gunfire about 4:30 p.m. Sunday as he drove in the area of West 25th Avenue and Clark Road. The case has been reclassified as criminal recklessness, reducing the number of gunshot victims previously reported by one, police said.
Police efforts hampered by uncooperative victims
In other cases, victims have not been particularly cooperative with police, hampering efforts to present the cases to the Lake County prosecutor's office for consideration of charges, Hamady previously told The Times.
Staring down a $17 million budget deficit, Freeman-Wilson also has sought $75,000 in donations to expand the reach of the Gary For Life anti-crime program, first enacted in 2014.
The money would be spent to deploy community members over a 90-day period into neighborhoods to engage with gang members and discourage retaliatory violent acts, she said.
Anyone with information is asked to call detectives at 219-881-1210. To remain anonymous, call 866-CRIME-GP.