Once more, into the breach: Gary seeks outside help to tackle surge in violence

A multiagency task force of state, Federal and local law enforcement personnel will be dispatched to Gary, Ind., following a series of violent incidents in September that shattered the relative lull in crime that the city experienced during the summer.

Jon DiGuilio, the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Indiana, announced the formation of the task force Oct. 10 on the heels of a series of violent incidents in the economically depressed city, including two drive-by shootings at local high schools and a gang shoot-out with police on Sept. 11.

The task force will be composed of 20 to 30 officers from such Federal agencies as the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, along with officers of the Gary Police Department, the Indiana State Police and the Lake County Sheriff’s Department, DiGuilio told Law Enforcement News.

The purpose of the task force, said DiGuilio, “will be twofold: to react to incidents of violent crime in which there may be a Federal nexus…and engage in proactive efforts to attack street crime, particularly crack house sales, and drug and firearms violations in housing developments.”

DiGuilio, who said he expected the task force to arrive in Gary by the end of October once agreements between the various agencies were reached, said the strategy was unique in that “it’s the first time that any of us can remember a situation where each of the three main Federal law enforcement agencies have agreed to work a joint task force.”

Under the plan, Federal agents will respond with Gary police to crimes that may involve Federal violations. If it is determined the crimes are in fact Federal offenses, task force agents will take over the investigation from local police, DiGuilio said. Agents will also conduct “intensive training with the Gary Police Department to develop a closer relationship with the department and help contribute to its growth,” he added.

The Federal agents, who will be headquartered in Gary, will be on the streets night and day, the prosecutor added. “Violent crimes don’t occur just between 9 and 5,” he said.

The announcement came on the heels of the declaration of a state of emergency by Mayor Scott L. King on Sept. 11, after a pair of drive-by shootings at two high schools, followed that night by a blazing gun battle between police and suspected gang members at the Delaney housing development. No one was killed in the incidents.

Under the state of emergency, King tightened an 11 P.M. curfew for youths, added 25 auxiliary police officers to beef up police patrols and appealed to U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno for funding for more cops. But officials turned down an offer from Gov. Evan Bayh for more state troopers or National Guard troops.

“We will not tolerate this ever happening again in this city,” King told The New York Times. “There were an incredible number of shots fired at the housing development, endangering hundreds of innocent people. It’s a miracle no one was hurt.”

The housing-project fusillade began as police responded to a shots-fired call. When two officers arrived at the scene, they saw four armed men fleeing the area. The men were apprehended, but as crime-scene technicians canvassed the area, police received a call warning them of four more men in bulletproof vests armed with rifles. Shots broke out, sending police scurrying for cover. The shooting ended only after a SWAT team arrived, but the four suspects escaped.

Violence has plagued the city of 109,000 residents throughout the 1990s, as thousands of jobs, most of them provided by the former United States Steel Corp., dried up and were replaced by the drug trade. The city racked up 110 homicides in 1990, giving it the nation’s highest per-capita murder rate. Homicides jumped to 132 last year.

As of Sept. 22, 68 killings had been reported to police, a decline of about 34 percent so far this year.

Last October, Bayh ordered 50 Indiana State Police troopers to Gary in a high-profile effort to contain violent crime. The troopers, who remained until December, conducted traffic stops, set up sobriety and interdiction checkpoints, busted crack houses and seized guns, said State Police Capt. Richard Stalbrink, a 30-year veteran who served as one of the operation’s commanders.

“We made a lot of arrests, but whether it had a long-term effect, who knows?” the captain told Law Enforcement News recently. “Maybe we’ll never know, but what would it have been like had we not been there?”

“It’s a short-term method, but it does work,” Stalbrink said of the State Police deployment. “While we were in town, we did quiet the city down. They were still killing people but they weren’t killing them on the street. After we left, the homicide rate shot right back up. It’s not much different now than before.”

    nJacob R. Clark


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Published in Law Enforcement News
Nov. 30, 1996.
© 1996, LEN Inc.