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City leaders discuss options to combat crime

February 6, 2019

Educating the public, exploring new technology and treating drug addiction were some of the ideas to address crime presented to Fort Wayne City Council on Tuesday.

The crime summit hosted by the council was attended by representatives from the Fort Wayne Police Department, the Allen County Sheriff’s Department, the Allen County Health Department, the Lutheran Foundation and the FBI. 

“Unfortunately, we continue to see a culture that accepts violence and far too many guns in the wrong hands,” Police Chief Steve Reed said.

“When I say that, I am a Second Amendment supporter for someone who can legally have a firearm, but there are far too many guns out there with individuals who cannot legally possess those.”

It’s “quite easy” for criminals to get access to illegal firearms, Reed said. 

“Most of them are stolen from lawful owners,” Reed said. “We just ask gun owners to be responsible. A gun taken out of an unlocked car tends to be an issue.” 

Arrests for illegal possession of a handgun rose more than 28 percent in 2018, Reed said. The department also more than doubled the number of drug seizures from 2017, with “record or near-record seizures of heroin, meth and marijuana in 2018,” Reed said. 

Violent crime rose 8 percent in 2018, said Councilman John Crawford, R-at large. However, overall crime in Fort Wayne dropped by 15 percent. But a perception of Fort Wayne as a violent city persists, he said, which causes residents to fear for their safety, impacts quality of life and home values and discourages investment in areas perceived as high crime. 

“We’ve had a problem getting investment in some areas of the city and that is a big part of it,” Crawford said. 

But perception is everything, said Stacey Davis of the victims’ advocacy group Justice Accountability and Victim Advocacy. 

“From our perspective, there’s a real crime problem, it’s not a perception of a crime problem,” Davis said. 

Davis said JAVA does not believe there is an adequate number of homicide detectives. She also tipped her hat to the Vice and Narcotics Division and the Gang and Violent Crime Unit, but noted there are still problems.

The Fort Wayne Police Department is working with the city parks department on a pilot initiative to secure the soon-to-open Promenade Park along the riverfront, Reed told the council. 

That program, which Reed said was authorized by Mayor Tom Henry, will install cameras in the park that will be monitored by police.

“The Fort Wayne Police Department will be purchasing the cameras out of our drug seizure fund to put up in the park as a measure of safety and to monitor any type of illegal activity in the park,” Reed said. 

Crawford said he is a strong proponent of technology in curbing and solving crimes, especially when witnesses are hesitant to come forward. However, he noted there are challenges, such as privacy that must be addressed. Use of any technology like security cameras, Crawford said, must be implemented properly. 

“If you implement it well and you have the infrastructure to monitor it and preserve the data, it can be very positive,” Crawford said. “Other cities have tried cameras and not had much good effect, so you have to do it well if you’re going to do it.” 

There needs to be community outreach before technology such as cameras are placed into neighborhoods, Reed said. 

“Before we talk about going into neighborhoods, we definitely need to enter into a conversation with our neighborhood associations and other community groups to make sure they know what we intend on doing and they’re comfortable with it,” Reed said. 

Many of the violent crimes committed in Fort Wayne involve illegal drugs in some form, Reed said. 

Capt. Kevin Hunter, head of the city police’s Vice and Narcotics Division, said seizures of marijuana increased by 67 percent last year from 2017. At more than 300 pounds seized, marijuana was the drug most commonly confiscated in 2018. 

Some of that is carried over from states that have legalized marijuana for recreational use, Hunter said.

“Certainly Michigan has legal marijuana, we do see some of it coming from Michigan and we’ll probably start seeing it from all the other surrounding states as well,” Hunter said. “We do see a lot of it coming from Colorado, California, Washington state and Oregon as well.” 

City police saw a 35  percent increase in crack cocaine seizures last year, Hunter said, as well as a 27 percent increase in methamphetamine seizures. Heroin seizures increased by 55 percent in 2018, Hunter said. 

To combat overdoses, local organizations including the police department and the Lutheran Foundation are looking at implementing Treatment Alternatives for Safe Communities. 

“One of the ideas would be when someone overdoses, we have a team that goes out and meets with them and tries to get them in a treatment program,” hunter said. “And that’s just one aspect of that program.”

Educating youth against the dangers of drug use and violence is important, Health Commissioner Dr. Deborah McMahan said, but kids also need to be equipped with the tools to make good choices. 

McMahan said she has statistics regarding murders in Fort Wayne : the average age was 28 and the most common method was by handgun : but there is no data to show the circumstances and root causes. 

“I also can’t tell you where were missed opportunities. ... Why did not somebody intervene before that point to be able to change this potential outcome. I don’t have that information and I think that’s something you really need,” McMahan said. 

That’s something the health department would be interested in investing in, she added. 

“I think that would be something we would be willing to invest learning about this from the coroner’s records like we did with overdoses, if you think that would be something that would be helpful for you to have a better understanding of policies and programs you can develop or implement,” she said. 

dgong@jg.net

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