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Prince signs executive order creating Gary police reform commission
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Prince signs executive order creating Gary police reform commission

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GARY — In the wake of George Floyd's killing by a former Minneapolis police officer, the city is taking a closer look at its own police department. 

On Thursday via Zoom, Gary Mayor Jerome Prince signed an executive order creating a police use of force commission, which will include civic and business leaders, community activists, faith leaders and community organizations. 

"Our Gary police officers put their lives on the line to protect our community. They know that each day when they go out and leave their homes and their families that they may not come back and see their loved ones again," Prince said.

"I am largely proud of the work that the vast majority of those officers do every day, but I will readily admit that no department is perfect. And the Gary Police Department also needs work."

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During a meeting with Gary Police Chief Richard Ligon, Deputy Police Chief Brian Evans and Gary Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) President Sgt. Greg Wolf, Prince said it was established the city will not "tolerate violence or inappropriate actions on behalf of our officers against the residents of the city." 

Prince added the city will "weed out" any officer who shouldn't wear a badge. 

Change by July?

At this time, Prince said he's not sure how many people will be on the board, later adding there aren't specific qualifications to serve on the commission. 

"We certainly want to encourage as much participation as possible, we absolutely want to have a diverse cross section of the community," Prince said, adding it won't be an "exhaustive" amount of people. 

The commission is expected to mobilize within 30 days, during which members will bring immediate recommendations to the mayor for any operational or legislative changes on the city's use of force policies. 

Within 60 days, Prince said he expects the commission to present a comprehensive report after receiving community input. 

With the timeline established in Prince's order, the first set of recommendations should be made by July 11, with the second report due by Aug. 11. 

"This commission's also going to be charged with (the) responsibility of contemplating and bringing recommendations back to the administration whether or not a citizens advisory council should be established, and to that point, exactly how it should function," Prince said.

Prince said he doesn't anticipate pushback from Gary FOP on any potential changes, adding it's only "logical and sensible" a member of the FOP serve on the commission. 

"After all, that is the entity in which we are addressing and it just only seems prudent that their perspective or their viewpoint be heard as well," he said. 

Policies past and present 

When asked his stance on defunding the Gary Police Department, Prince said he's "certainly receptive to all concepts."

"On the issue of defunding or disbanding what we will look for is other opportunities to better utilize our resources," Prince said.

"And so if that means shifting funds from one particular area of the department, you know to areas such as mental health ... and those become the recommendations of the commission, then certainly it's something that this administration can seriously consider and shortly thereafter, implement and execute." 

In the past week, protests have been held in Gary, some of which called for more information about last summer's fatal shooting of 25-year-old Rashad Cunningham by a city police officer. The Lake County prosecutor's office has not determined whether the shooting was justified.

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Prince called the shooting an "unfortunate event" on Thursday. 

"By the way, to the family of Rashad Cunningham and friends,  I extend my heartfelt condolences on behalf of the city, and my family as well," Prince said. "I certainly don't or can't say that I understand specifically what they feel having not experienced that personally. However, just from a very human perspective, we certainly have an idea of the tragedy that occurred and certainly, we begin to understand the sentiments of the family."

Prince assured the commission will review everything, including past and present policies, as well as past and previous actions of the police department.

Gallery: National unrest hits Region

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South Lake County Reporter

Mary Freda is the South Lake County reporter at The Times. She is a proud Ball State graduate, where she studied news journalism and Spanish. You can reach Mary at mary.freda@nwi.com or 219-853-2563.

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