Thursday, January 1, 2015


New police chief, new tactics

Wednesday, December 31, 2014 - 6:19 am
The number of deaths by homicide in Fort Wayne fell by nearly three-fourths from last year to this. By Fort Wayne Police Department figures, 44 people died in homicides in 2013, compared with only 16 as of Wednesday.
What made the difference between last year's record-breaking number of deaths and this year's figure?
2013 was an anomaly, say Fort Wayne Public Safety Director Rusty York and Fort Wayne Police Chief Garry Hamilton.
"Last year was just a crazy year. We had four police-action shootings, that never happens," York said.
According to FBI statistics nationally, for the past 20 years the number of homicides has been declining in this country. In 1995 the total number of murders nationally was 20,043. In 2013, the FBI reports, there were 13,716 murders and non-negligent manslaughter cases -- a drop of 4.4 percent from the corresponding number in 2012.
Fort Wayne has seen "anomalies" like last year's high toll in homicide deaths before. In the 1980s, homicide rates in the city were in the high teens and rose to the low 20s before falling to three in 1984, but by the end of the 80's the numbers had climbed back into the teens. In the late '80s and early '90s crack cocaine emerged on the street. In 1994, former Fort Wayne Police Chief Neil Moore said 64 percent of the murders that year were gang-related activity and drug trafficking.
In 1994 homicides jumped to 41, but by 1996 that number had dipped to 13 only to have the number jump back to 41 in '97. Unlike 1994 the killings were not all drug- and gang-related. The final homicide in 1997 was a shaken baby. At year's end, 70 percent of the cases were still pending in the court system. Nearly a quarter had not resulted in an arrest.
At that time Moore said, "It's a cliché, but you could put a police officer on every street corner here and not stop homicides. Folks intent on killing each other are going to find a way.''
Fast forward to 2014. York was promoted from police chief to safety director, and Hamilton became the new police chief.
Hamilton changed tactics in solving homicides. He said it was clear that many of the homicides being committed were retaliation. Parents and clergy fed up with the violence in the community came down on their kids and got them to talk about who had shot them. In 1997 the shootings were over turf involving national gangs. Now, the local groups are fighting among themselves, robbing each other for drugs and money..
"We had a situation where a drug deal went bad, one man stabbed another, while the other man shot him and they both died," York said.
Despite the upswing of heroin sales, cocaine and marijuana were still what people were getting killed over.
"Many of these homicides were drug rip-offs, where people were simply being set up and robbed. Most of the drug activity is still marijuana and cocaine." Hamilton said.
It wasn't nationally organized gangs, explained Hamilton. It was more local groups of people forming and then breaking off, feuds between these groups and then robberies.
Back in 1994, Moore asked for and got more money for the Community Anti-Narcotics Team.
They targeted five areas with saturation patrols -- areas with a lot of drug trafficking. Officers began taking their squad cars home.
York said now they are working collaboratively now with the federal law-enforcement officers to identify who is involved in the activity and get them off the streets.
"We study the data a lot more now then they did back in the '90s," York said,
Hamilton put together the Violent Gangs Task Force. So far they have made over 358 significant arrests over the past year, resulting in 488 charges that have been filed as of Nov. 30. They have also recovered 45 guns.
To date, 21 of the 44 homicides in 2013 have been cleared.
"The very first day after we started, Feb. 14, we arrested our first subject for attempted murder and carrying a handgun, which is a Class C felony," Hamilton said.
Hamilton said parents are forcing the victims to give them information because they want to break that cycle of violence. Police keep a list of those who have been shot. If the person who did the shooting ends up dead, they know where to look first.
"It seems like we are picking the people up the next day," York added, "The chief's efforts are much more focused than what we had before," York said.
Hamilton has included the State Police, and the US Marshals, who work closely with the FBI. The coordination of information and resources is what is making the difference.
The first-responders and emergency rooms are making a difference, too. Nonfatal shootings in the southeast quadrant were down only slightly this year, with 61 compared with 70 in 2013.
2013 / 2014
northwest 2 -2
northeast 3 -5
southwest 7- 8
southeast 70- 61
The numbers, cautioned Hamilton, are only as good as the information that police are getting. If people lie about where the shooting takes place it throws the numbers off. These numbers also include accidental shootings.
"We ride the wave of trends in homicides, and that's a tough one. So many times they spin out of drug deals or arguments. But I can say, especially going back to the '90s, we are so data-driven now. We get our partners together once a week to discuss where it is happening and how to get the people off the streets. Commanders on a daily basis are looking at the data and deciding where to put officers on the streets. Back in my days we were given a set of car keys and a radio," York said.

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