GARY — City officials and community leaders on Friday said they are recommitting themselves to a multi-faceted anti-crime strategy as the city has seen an increase in homicides and they are asking residents to get involved.
Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson said her intention wasn't to highlight the city has a problem, but to emphasize the city is working collectively on a solution.
"We know that this is an intractable problem," she said. "And we know that we have to be vigilant in coming up with solutions."
Gary had logged 15 homicides as of April 1, up from 13 at the same time last year. However, the number of shootings is down, Freeman-Wilson said.
Much of Gary's violent crime stems from gangs, drugs and domestic abuse, she said, and only a small percentage of the city's population is involved in criminal activity.
"We're not going to let a small percentage, less than 5 percent of the population, govern how the other 95 percent live our lives," she said.
Freeman-Wilson was joined by Gary Police Chief Richard Allen, Lake County Sheriff Oscar Martinez Jr., City Council President Ron Brewer, the Revs. Charles Emery, Edward Turner and Eric Boone, block club organizer Ola Morris and Penelope Love, of the Aetna Manor Revitalization group. Indiana University Northwest Police Chief Wayne James also was in attendance.
Allen said the department relies on data to analyze and respond to crime. A quick-response unit stands ready to move into neighborhoods in the wake of violent crimes, and the department works closely with federal, state and local law enforcement agencies, he said.
The Gary for Life initiative will continue, but police need the community's help, officials said. Social service agencies, churches, community groups and residents all have a role to play.
"We want to make sure none of our youth are geared toward violence," Allen said. "Everybody has to be involved. Nobody plays a small part. We're all in this together. We need to work together so we can reduce the amount of violence that's happening in our community."
Martinez said he's given Freeman-Wilson his word that his department would be available to assist Gary as needed.
Sheriff's police patrolling Calumet Township already monitor Gary police radio channels and assist immediately in the Glen Park area.
The sheriff's high-crime unit, which uses data to focus its efforts, also assists in Glen Park, other areas of Gary or anywhere in the county, Martinez said.
"I make sure every officer on the high-crime unit is courteous and respectful to those citizens," Martinez said. "They're highly trained officers. Based on their training and experience, they know what they're looking for."
Several of the pastors laid out plans for the Gary Ten-Point Coalition, a faith-based anti-crime network that began in Boston and has been replicated nationwide.
"We realize our work is not just done within the four walls of the church," said The Rev. Edward Turner, president of the Baptist Ministers Conference. "We stand ready to partner with the city as an alternate agent of change."
The coalition will work with police to respond to high-crime areas. Members will focus on intervention, crime prevention, educational opportunities, awareness, job training and placement, and more. The coalition will partner with different agencies and businesses, conduct peace marches and build a relationship of trust with community youths.
Turner echoed Councilman Brewer, who said many young people in the community are in need of mentors. The coalition will work to be "a visible face they can trust," Turner said.
The Rev. Eric Boone, of Tree of Life Church, is leading a group sponsoring an all-ages concert April 21 at West Side Leadership Academy that will focus on violence, drugs and bullying.
Boone said the goal is to raise awareness among those who are unaware or underaware of the effect violence has on the community.
"You born lookin' like your parents, but you die lookin' like your decisions," Boone said. "So when people leave this concert, we want them to become better decisionmakers."
Tickets to the concert will cost $20.