Gary tamped down an alarming mid-summer rise in its homicide rate to end 2015 with a 36 percent drop in violent crime and a 14 percent decrease in property crime.
Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson attributed the decreases to increased coordination among local, state and federal authorities and community groups as part of the Gary for Life initiative.
"It's the comprehensive effort," she said. "There's better coordination in the department, but also with our community partners."
The city logged 50 homicides in 2015, compared with 51 in 2014 and 55 in 2013.
The slight decrease last year came after officials and residents ramped up efforts to stop a surge in violence in July and August. The city marked its 37th and 38th homicides Aug. 10 and did not record another until late September.
The total is far fewer than the number of homicides recorded during two years in the late 1990s, when the city was dubbed the murder capital of the U.S.
Gary logged 105 homicides in 1993 and 104 in 1996, according to statistics provided by Indiana University Northwest assistant professor Joseph Ferrandino. The city’s population has decreased by about 37,000 since that time, from 117,836 in 1993 to 80,294 in 2010.
Statistics released by the mayor’s office showed 2015 marked the second year in a row that Gary has seen decreases in every category of violent and property crime.
Compared with 2013 totals, violent crime was down 48 percent and property crime was down 28 percent in 2015.
Besides homicide, the violent crimes include rape, robbery and assault.
The city recorded 25 rapes in 2015, down 43 percent from the 44 reported in 2014. Robberies were down about 26 percent, from 278 in 2014 to 204 last year. Assaults declined by 49 percent, from 354 in 2014 to 181 last year.
Property crimes include burglary, theft, motor vehicle theft and arson.
Burglaries were down 20 percent, from 1,249 in 2014 to 990 last year. Thefts were down slightly, from 2,253 in 2014 to 2,027 last year. Motor vehicle thefts declined by about 17 percent, from 461 in 2014 to 380 last year. Arsons decreased from 63 in 2014 to 52 last year.
The city reported no officer-involved shootings in 2015, down from two a year earlier.
The Gary for Life imitative is based on NOLA For Life, developed in New Orleans in 2012 as a way to combat that city's violent crime.
Freeman-Wilson said the city’s faith community, its block clubs and residents who worked to improve the city's appearance and spoke up about crime in their neighborhoods also helped reduce crime rates.
"I don't think we can underestimate the community effort," she said.
The city has hosted three “calls-ins” with people on probation or parole since late 2014, officials said. The meetings were attended by a total of about 60 people, Freeman-Wilson said.
Local, state and federal law enforcement officials, social services providers, and members of the city’s faith community are on hand to talk with those who attend, officials said.
Freeman-Wilson disagreed with critics who say those causing the most trouble likely don't want to hear what pastors have to say.
"If the only thing the faith community did was go to this group and talk about God, I'd agree," she said.
But the pastors talk to the people at call-ins about their goals, aspirations and future. They talk "human being to human being," she said.
"There is a lot of credibility in that conversation," Freeman-Wilson said.
U.S. Attorney David Capp said at a community forum Sunday in Munster that his office has been involved in call-ins in Gary and South Bend.
He described the meetings as an effort to prevent people who have served time in jail or prison from committing new crimes and returning to life behind bars.
“It’s not a law enforcement threat,” Capp said. “Our message is: ‘We will help you if you let us, but we will stop you if you make us.’”
People who attend can learn how to earn a GED, obtain job counseling and learn where to seek substance abuse counseling, he said.
“I think it’s starting to make a difference,” Capp said.
Freeman-Wilson said she's happy with Police Chief Larry McKinley, who was appointed in 2014.
"I think people understand that he is always willing to roll up his sleeves," she said.
She said a new multi-agency gang unit at the Police Department has been conducting targeted patrols. Indiana State Police, U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives have helped, too.
Freeman-Wilson credited Lake County Sheriff John Buncich for going to the County Council during the spike in gun violence last summer to secure overtime pay so his officers could help patrol Gary’s streets.
"When people work together and coordinate their efforts, you're always going to see success," she said.