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Crime plummets at former Mansards apartment complex in Griffith, town overall
GRIFFITH — When The Mansards apartment complex was acquired 14 months ago by Bayshore Properties, there was more than a change of names. A change in the crime rate also took place — a dramatic improvement.
Since acquiring the troubled complex in October 2016, the Merrillville-based firm gave it a new name, Park West Apartments, and is making major upgrades to its image.
During last week's Town Council meeting, Police Chief Greg Mance noted that overall crime in the complex is down 39 percent. There was a 79 percent reduction in burglaries and thefts are down 48 percent.
"The numbers look very promising," Mance said, adding that crime also is down 18 percent across the town.
The complex broke ground in 1965 and welcomed its first tenants in 1972, property manager Miljan Lukajic said.
Known then as a luxurious apartment complex, its image was tarnished in recent years with increasing crime rates. But that image is changing through the mutual cooperation of Bayshore and the Griffith police.
In particular, Griffith Officer Tony Hemphill, on special assignment for the past 14 months, has helped facilitate the improved crime numbers.
Hemphill said the major issues have been reduced to simple parking squabbles.
"The extraordinary reduction in crime over the last year at the complex is an example of the excellent work done by Officer Hemphill and our entire police department," said Town Council President Rick Ryfa, R-3rd.
He said the old ownership frequently battled with town officials, and that it is great to work with a cooperative owner.
Lukajic said his firm is taking "a proactive rather than reactive approach" to eliminate problems before they happen, including a strict screening process for future tenants.
Residents of the complex have enjoyed the improvement.
"I did notice a difference," Susan Miller said. "I do see things getting better."
She said things have been improving within the last year, especially since the new ownership took over.
However, other residents haven't seen it as an issue.
"I never saw any crime in this building," Marilyn Rosen said of her 25 years as a tenant.
"Without our residents, Chief Mance, the Griffith Police Department and the Griffith Town Council, we could not have experienced this positive change in 2017," Lukajic said.
He said major upgrades have been done to exterior sidings, building entrance glass, the parking lots and exterior lighting to go along with the landscaping, signs, renovated refuse stations, hallway carpeting, a 24-hour fitness center and the Match Point Tennis facility.
As the future unfolds, Lukajic said there are plans to revitalize and expand the unique amenities that made the complex such an iconic place to live.
This will include improved landscaping at the main complex sign, updating the complex entry area, lakes/ponds and the swimming pool areas.
Ryfa said the housing and business markets have exploded all over Griffith.
"The northern corridor is a very important part of our town, and the Town Council will strive to see that its economic and quality of life improvements continue and expand," he said.
Merrillville hires new attorney for the town
MERRILLVILLE — There is new legal representation for multiple Merrillville panels.
The Town Council last week unanimously selected attorney Joe Svetanoff to provide legal services in 2018 in the municipality.
Councilman Shawn Pettit said Svetanoff will represent the council, redevelopment commission, plan commission and board of zoning appeals.
Since 2012, attorney John Bushemi provided legal services to the council and Redevelopment Commission, and attorney Bill Touchette represented the Plan Commission and BZA.
Council President Richard Hardaway said Bushemi and Touchette each recently resigned from their positions with the town.
In other business:
* The council reappointed Pete Guip to serve on the police commission. Barbara Ghoston also was selected to continue serving on the stormwater management noard. Both positions have three-year terms.
* The council also deferred taking action on a special-exception request that would allow Taher Ashkar to operate a used car lot at 6096 Broadway. Council members indicated they need additional time to review the proposed layout for the site. The panel could act on the matter in January.
Key lawmakers eye longer timeline for Holcomb's workforce development changes
INDIANAPOLIS — Legislative leaders are not entirely on board with Gov. Eric Holcomb's call to realign Indiana's education and workforce development programs, during the 2018 General Assembly, to primarily meet the needs of the state's employers.
House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, and state Sen. Travis Holdman, R-Markle, both said at a recent conference that while they agree with the governor's overall goal, it won't be possible to do in the 10 weeks that lawmakers meet next year, starting Wednesday.
"We'll nibble around the edges, but a systemic fix is not happening," said Holdman, chairman of the Senate Committee on Insurance and Financial Institutions.
Bosma indicted part of the problem is that Holcomb has not laid out many specific details of how he intends to transform Indiana's fragmented education and workforce systems into a direct employment training pipeline.
"There are several proposals on the table that are worthy of discussion," Bosma said. "But nothing that really radically and systemically revises what we're doing today — which is spending $1 billion through nine different agencies and 30 different programs, and not moving the ball."
"I have yet to see the silver bullet."
That doesn't mean, however, that Bosma is not interested in working on workforce issues.
"I think the proposals the governor has placed in front of us are workable," Bosma said. "We'll work with them. We've got a few ideas of our own."
But Bosma said probably the best thing to do is take time to reconsider everything the state now is doing, rather than immediately creating at least two more state boards and dozens of additional local workforce committees, as Holcomb has proposed.
"We're not going to have a solution this session," Bosma said. "We need to have a hard stop so that people plan on it, and get it done in 2019."
He said that means evaluating and eliminating existing education and workforce programs that aren't delivering on their promises before replacing them with services that lawmakers believe will do a better job preparing Hoosiers for the jobs of today and tomorrow.
"It's time to say, 'Hey, let's rethink this. How could we spend $1 billion if we were starting from scratch?'" Bosma said. "The only way you can do that is to sunset programs."
Holcomb, meanwhile, is urging lawmakers to prioritize workforce issues next session, and act quickly, because "we don't have time to waste."
"We've rightly spent the last 10 to 12 years diversifying our economy here in the state of Indiana, and we need to make sure that our educational system truly matches that evolution and the evolving economy — this tech-driven economy — that we find ourselves in," Holcomb said.
To meet that challenge requires infusing science, technology, engineering and mathematics throughout the curriculum, as well as making computer science training available in every school by 2021, he said.
How exactly that happens, and who pays for it, Holcomb has said little beyond promising: "We're going to move away from the regulatory and compliance, top-down approach, and forward the capacity-building to the very local level, the street-level."
Hoosier Democrats are skeptical of the entire endeavor, pointing out that Holcomb's language on workforce issues almost identically matches similar promises made by Republican former Govs. Mitch Daniels and Mike Pence dating back to 2005.
John Zody, chairman of the Indiana Democratic Party, said if Statehouse Republicans want to improve the quality of Hoosier workers they should spend less time denigrating and de-funding Indiana schools.
"Republicans' divisive education policies haven’t helped stem the tide of Indiana's workforce crisis; in fact they’ve fueled it," Zody said. "You can’t learn about science, technology, engineering or math when your school is closed."
Sometimes police wind up in crashes too
Police officers across the Region drive millions of miles each year under high stress conditions.
They undergo specialized training behind the wheel, but sometimes find themselves not just responding to accidents, but involved in them.
Officers with the Lake County Sheriff's Department have been involved in 12 accidents this year and were at fault in seven of the crashes, according to Emiliano Perez, the department's public information officer.
The good news for the department is that this year's total was only a third of 36 accidents that occurred in 2016, he said. Officers were at fault in 20 of those crashes last year.
"That's a huge reduction," Perez said.
A wrongful death lawsuit was filed in May against five officers with the East Chicago and Hammond police departments involved in a high-speed pursuit over a case of stolen beer that cost the life of a 13-year-old Whiting girl earlier this year. A Danville, Illinois woman and a Highland man are charged with causing the high-speed police chase.
The Porter County Sheriff's Department has had 13 vehicles damaged in various types of incidents this year, and its officers were at fault in two accidents, according to Maj. Gary Gear, who maintains the department's 102-vehicle fleet.
The annual total number of accidents is standard for the department, he said.
In both of the at-fault crashes, the officers rear-ended other vehicles after taking their eyes off the road to focus on something else in their own cars, Gear said. One of the crashes that occurred in October sent an 80-year-old to a Chicago hospital with a head injury and injured two others, including the officer.
The LaPorte County Sheriff's Department had two vehicle crashes this year, both by the same officer during pursuits, said Capt. Michael Kellems, who recently announced his retirement as the public information officer.
The crashes resulted in only minimal damage and no injuries, he said. An administrative review is conducted of each accident and it was determined the officer had done nothing wrong.
"I can’t recall any time in the past when we’ve had any serious injury crashes," Kellems said. "Typically we only see a few and some years we haven't had any crashes."
'Make sure you get there'
Police officers undergo a week of driving training while at the academy and then face annual refresher courses once they are hired on with a department, Kellems said.
The LaPorte Department typically conducts hands-on driving training each year, but opted for a refresher course this year on the policies of driving in pursuit or other emergency situations, he said. Kellems said this year's topic was not in response to the two recent pursuit-related crashes.
Lake County police also undergo annual refresher courses in driving and each crash involving an officer is reviewed by a board of their peers, Perez said. If it is determined the officer is at fault, there is potential for disciplinary action.
"I would think that having something like that heightens awareness of officers while driving," he said.
An officer recently put that training and awareness into action when another motorist, who had not properly cleared frost from the windows of the vehicle, swerved into the officer's lane, forcing him to veer into the curb and damage his tires in order to avoid a collision, Perez said.
Sometimes the best efforts do not go as planned and officers are hurt during calls.
A Porter County police officer was injured in October when his vehicle was rear-ended by an accused drunk driver and another officer was injured on a motorcycle in August, Gear said.
Kellems said his officers face the same risks.
"During a blizzard on Valentine’s Day in 2015 we had three deputies that were injured when their vehicles were struck while they were investigating other crashes" he said.
Porter County Sheriff Dave Reynolds said his department tries to drive home the same message to all the officers: "Make sure you don't over-drive and make sure you get there."
Neither of Porter County's at-fault crashes occurred during a pursuit or response call.
"I think that says a lot for the officers," Reynolds said.
E911 callers expect a quick response
It's not only other vehicles that officers have to be prepared for while patrolling or responding to calls.
Four of the Porter County police cars damaged this year were the result of collisions with deer, Gear said.
"It's unbelievable," Reynolds said. "Make sure you watch for deer."
And then there are the risks you just can't plan for.
A Porter County police officer was driving along Pearson Road near the Brassie Golf Club in Chesterton in August when a tree fell on the vehicle, Gear said. The officer escaped injury, but the car was damaged, he said.
Reynolds said officers with his department drove more than 1.6 million miles so far this year, which increases the odds for problems.
"We're constantly on the road," he said.
The county is larger than many people realize, Reynolds said, with 444 square miles and more than 800 miles of roadways to patrol.
The department is trying to relieve this situation by beefing up its patrols, Reynolds said. It is set to receive a new patrolman next year after not having had a new one added to the force since 2001.
In the meantime, the county is one of the fastest growing in the state and with the growth comes more demand.
"When they dial 911, they expect a police officer to get there as quick as we can," Reynolds said.
Lake Station city council approves increase in refuse-collection rate during heated council meeting
LAKE STATION — Discussions about the refuse collection rate increase sparked a heated situation prior to the City Council's giving final approval to the charge.
Residents and city leaders last week were given an opportunity to share their thoughts on how to handle refuse collection before voting took place.
At one point, loud arguing involving Council President Carlos Luna, Councilman Neil Anderson and a resident filled the council chambers with the men talking over one another.
With a bang of his gavel, Mayor Christopher Anderson calmed the situation and indicated people would be asked to leave the meeting if that behavior continued. There were no other issues after that.
The panel later voted 4-3 to give final approval to the $4 rate increase that will start in January. Current rates are $14.50 per month for basic residential service, but there are discounts for seniors and low-income residents.
The plan is to use the additional funding to purchase two new collection trucks to replace existing vehicles that regularly break down. City officials want to acquire the vehicles, expected to cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, as soon as possible, but it wasn't immediately certain how long that process will take.
Council members supporting the rate increase said it's important to keep city services in-house. They think changes can be made in the Solid Waste Department to generate more funding for the municipality and make the entity operate more efficiently.
They also indicated they want to avoid more outsourcing of city services.
"If we don't take ownership of our city, who will?" Councilwoman Esther Rocha-Baldazo said.
Council members voting against the rate increase think a proposal to have GMI Recycling Services handle trash and recycling pickup would have produced numerous benefits in the city. The council voted 4-3 in November to turn down that offer.
Councilman Rick Long said accepting the proposal would immediately have generated more than $200,000 for the municipality, because GMI would have purchased three of the city's collection trucks. A portion of that funding could have been used to address compliance issues at Lake Station's compost facility, Long said.
He and other supporters of outsourcing said it also would have reduced costs in the municipality, enhanced trash service and locked in the current rates for the next five years.
Voting for the rate increase were Luna, Rocha-Baldazo, Fred Williams and Jennifer Miller. Voting against were Long, Neil Anderson and Ericka Castillo.