GARY | A deadly year has Gary's per capita homicide rate nearing numbers of national significance, and city officials are concerned.
"I certainly look at the numbers and have a concern that even if we're not the highest, these numbers are high enough for people to say, 'It's dangerous there,'" Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson said.
As of Oct. 10, Gary recorded 42 homicides, making the city's homicide rate 53 per capita (the rate per 100,000 residents). That equals one homicide for every 1,900 residents.
Hammond, which has a nearly identical population of just more than 79,000 residents, had a rate of eight per capita.
Camden, N.J., which shares similar demographics and population, also had a rate of 53. That city logged the most homicides in the city's history in 2012 — 67, making the homicide rate 86, one of the highest in the nation for a city its size.
Flint, Mich., led the nation in 2012 with the highest homicide rate for a city of more than 100,000 residents last year with a rate of 65. Flint has just 20,000 residents more than Gary.
Gary is on pace to log 49 homicides by year's end. If that happens, the city will have a per capita homicide rate of 62, or one for every 1,600 residents.
Police Chief Wade Ingram thinks it could be even worse and estimates the city could record 55 homicides by Dec. 31.
The core problem
When the homicides hit a critical level this summer, Ingram and a host of other law enforcement officials in the region pointed to small, upstart gangs involved in retaliatory crimes as the primary cause.
Ingram said those are still a problem, but not to the extent he once believed.
"The bottom line is almost all of them stem from some sort of argument," Ingram said. "I don't really see it as a big drug and gang issue. It's more societal."
Ingram said he believes education has to begin at a young age.
"Maybe in these schools they should mandate they have some class or role-playing in conflict resolution," Ingram said. "The majority of it is interpersonal conflict between individuals who don't know how to resolve it other than with guns.
"I'm not against guns, but I do favor gun control. They need to be kept out of the hands of the wrong people."
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Both Freeman-Wilson and Ingram cited a host of violent crimes that either occur or originate at gas stations or convenience stores.
Freeman-Wilson said she and Ingram are exploring a proposal made by Wade that would require gas stations and convenience stores to close at 9 p.m. if they do not have surveillance cameras both inside and outside their businesses.
"We've experienced so much violence at these gas stations and stores," Ingram said. "Shootings, homicides, carjackings, drug deals, especially those that are open 24 hours a day."
Ingram said the city conducted an audit, and most of the gas stations and convenience stores there do have surveillance video cameras inside the businesses, but not outside.
"We want it all around," he said. "How many times have we seen this year a guy comes out of a gas station and someone shoots them? This will help with our solvency rate."
When homicides reached alarming levels this summer, Freeman-Wilson asked Gov. Mike Pence to send Indiana State Police troopers to assist in patrolling the streets. Pence instead called for an audit of the Gary Police Department, which resulted in a report with a host of recommendations for improvement and no troopers coming to the city.
"The Pence report is great for management and efficiency of the department," Ingram said.
Ingram said he has already made significant changes in divisions within the department based on Pence report recommendations.
The Pence report noted the department had 40 percent of its force dedicated to patrol and recommended it be at 60 percent.
Ingram said he has 55 percent of officers in the patrol unit now. He plans to move more officers to patrol to reach the 60 percent mark soon.
"More police on the street does make a difference," Ingram said.
Homicides are not occurring as frequently as they were in the summer months, and other violent crimes in the city are down from last year.
Ingram said efforts will continue to keep crime down, but he maintained it takes more than officers on the street to make that happen.
"We need more loving in the world, just more basic human respect," Ingram said.