By Frederick H. Lowe
GARY, IND. —At a time when police shootings of unarmed blacks have become numbingly routine, Gary, Ind.’s police department stands out for a good reason.
Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson announced last week at the National Black Political Convention that Gary’s police department did not have an officer-involved shooting in 2015.
Larry McKinley, Gary’s police chief, added that so far this year there haven’t been any officer involved police shooting.
Chief McKinley attributes the 210-member police department’s success to officers being embedded in the community. This includes knowing neighborhood residents by walking a beat as well as driving patrol cars.
In the city of 80,000, 65 percent of the officers are African American and the balance is white and Hispanic.
Gary is 25 miles east of Chicago, which has one of the nation’s most violent police departments. Police shooting deaths of unarmed African Americans are alarmingly routine.
They include Laquan McDonald and Rekia Boyd. Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke murdered McDonald, 17, on Oct. 20, 2014, shooting him 16 times as he walked away from the police. McDonald had a pen knife.
The 22 year-old Boyd was murdered when she was shot in the back of the head by off duty Chicago Police Detective Dante Servin. He fired into a group which Boyd was a member after complaining they were making too much noise. Boyd was unarmed.
Chicago has paid multimillion settlements to the families of Boyd and McDonald.
In Gary, officers receive crisis intervention training to learn how to work with the mentally ill. “We are trained to calm down individuals who are having a mental health crisis,” McKinley said. The department has been trained by National Alliance for the Mentally Ill or NAMI in Gary. The training includes determining whether a person has or has not taken his or her prescribed medication.
“We put in a lot of training to engage the community and to work with the elderly,” McKinley said.
Because of the training, Gary police reach for less lethal options when handling a suspect. Gary police carry bright yellow Tasers in holsters that rest on the officers’ stomachs. They are easier to reach than their guns.
Last year, Gary was one six cities nationwide selected by the U.S. Justice Department as pilot sites for participation in restoring relationships between law enforcement and citizens. The $4.7 million National Initiative for Building Community Trust was announced in April 2015 by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder.
The program is working at least in Gary. During the conference, Gary residents praised the police, saying they worked too hard.