GARY — Pointing to last weekend’s gun violence that killed one and injured 16, Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson is soliciting donations to fill what she calls a "gaping hole" in the cash-strapped city’s anti-crime strategy.
Her city administration is already budgeting an additional $100,000 to cover police overtime as detectives work “at a feverish pitch” to get to the bottom of the shootings, she said. One of the shootings resulted in the death of 19-year-old Jazaniel Davis, of Merrillville.
“So far, we know that there have been multiple acts of retaliation that stem from new and old conflicts. We are increasing overtime and have had great support from the Indiana State Police, Lake County Sheriff’s (Department), IUN and others,” she wrote in a letter to community groups.
Staring down a $17 million budget deficit, Freeman-Wilson is seeking $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.
“A gaping hole in our strategy is the existence of interceptors or community responders. These individuals are trained members of the community who have the trust and confidence of those engaged in violent behavior and who have the ability to discourage retaliation or any other activity that would increase community violence,” Freeman-Wilson wrote in an email Monday.
The email was addressed to organizations and civil groups such as Methodist Hospitals, the Legacy Foundation, NIPSCO, the Times Media Co., and Workforce Development Services, she said.
The mayor is seeking donations despite the administration coming under criticism in recent months after it was discovered the city's Finance Department was misusing millions in public safety dollars to cover the city's payroll.
Freeman-Wilson has said she had no knowledge of the misuse, and the money went to cover legitimate city spending.
The State Board of Accounts is conducting its own probe, but the city also extensively reviewed wire transfers. The internal review prompted the firing of the deputy controller Michelle Roby and the mayor breaking a consultant contract with former controller Celita Green.
On Tuesday, Freeman-Wilson said she has no intention of pulling money from that fund to cover the Gary For Life expansion. Those dollars are restrictive and critically needed to fund fire department equipment maintenance and other EMS-related expenses, she said.
Asked why she is soliciting donations, Freeman-Wilson said the answer is simple and has been widely publicized: Gary is struggling financially and doesn’t have the resources to tackle this alone.
It was not immediately clear Tuesday how quickly the individuals could be trained through the National Network for Safe Communities, a project of City University of New York’s John J. College of Criminal Justice. City University of New York is a partner in the city’s Gary For Life program, the mayor said.
Freeman-Wilson said community engagement programs like this have had success elsewhere in the country, including South Bend; Richmond, Virginia; and within the Cure Violence program in Chicago.
Joy Holliday, coordinator for the Gary For Life program, said while G4L already addresses gang retaliation, the weekend’s shootings highlighted opportunities for more outreach within Gary For Life.
“This adds another layer,” she said. “These are individuals who have credibility and trust that may not exist between our law enforcement and the community. They literally become boots on the ground and respond to violence as it happens.”
Brewer: Focus should be on OT, enforcement
Gary detectives have been working since the first shots rang out Saturday in canvassing crime scenes, compiling witness statements and tampering more gunfire with heavy street presence.
Police believe some of the violence this past weekend was carried out by feuding gangs in retaliation for past murders.
Gary Common Council President Ron Brewer, D-at large, said Tuesday he disagrees with the mayor’s request for $75,000 to expand Gary For Life at this time.
He wants to see the money put toward immediate police actions, including even more overtime to make arrests in the weekend’s shootings, he said.
“I would rather we use the funds to get some of these people apprehended. We should use that money to set up a fund for rewards for information leading to arrests,” Brewer said.
Extra patrols have been beefed up in the city’s Glen Park, Midtown and Oak Knoll sections, among other neighborhoods. Police have also been knocking on doors and passing out flyers in hopes witnesses will come forward with information.
Police have also called on Indiana State Police, federal ATF, IUN police, Gary For Life leaders, and the community for assistance.
Brewer said police should also be strictly enforcing city ordinances already on the books.
For instance, he said, the city’s parks close at dusk, and yet on Saturday night 150 people were at Ironwood Park on East 24th Avenue for a social gathering before gunfire erupted and three were wounded.
“No one had permission to be at the park. They had no reservations, no permit,” Brewer said. “Somehow, that should have been known by the police department. With how things get out on social media, someone should have been notified that this was going on.”
The mayor has said she would like to adopt an ordinance that triggers a review of the business license if a particular business is found to be attracting or accepting of gang violence.
TenPoint crime-fighting program underway
Freeman-Wilson said she remains hopeful about the recent initiative launched in the city's West Glen Park area — the TenPoint Coalition — thanks to a $50,000 startup grant from Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill's office.
The TenPoint Coalition focuses on bridging the gap between violent offenders in Gary’s highest crime neighborhoods and faith-based groups, former convicted felons and former gang members through nightly peace walks and patrols throughout the year.
The $50,000 seed grant is covering stipends to those involved in the nightly walks and patrols, including ex-convicts familiar with Gary's gang problem.
Freeman-Wilson said the grant is currently restricted to the city's West Glen Park area. She said she plans to reach out to the AG's office to see if the nightly patrols can be extended to other sections of the city, including East Glen Park.
Once the startup grant money dries up, it will be up to the city to find money in the budget to continue the TenPoint Coalition program.
In her email, Freeman-Wilson requested willing donors to contact the mayor’s office at 219-293-5329.
Residents have been urged to report gunfire or provide other information that might help in preventing or detecting crime, especially when gun violence is involved.
To report violent crime, call detectives at 219-881-1210. To remain anonymous, call 866-CRIME-GP.