Fort Wayne Police Department reshapes gang unit after homicides

Fort Wayne police
Fort Wayne police

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – It’s no secret the 2013 homicide count is high for Fort Wayne.  In fact, Allen County is nearing the record number of 44 homicides.  15 Finds Out has discovered the Fort Wayne Police Department is reshaping tactics to address the homicide rate.  Chief Rusty York said his gang unit will now be watching potentially dangerous suspects more closely.

Since April, the city’s reasoning for the uptick in homicides has been consistent:  Gangs, guns, and drugs.  As of Friday, there had been 39 homicides in Fort Wayne and two in the county.  Those numbers include four police action shootings and four self-defense homicides in the city.

Police attribute much of that violence to gang activity, which they said is quickly expanding.

“We’re starting to see some gang activity in the Burmese culture, Hispanic culture, African American, whites, you have a pretty broad spectrum that you’re looking at,” said Marty Bender, deputy police chief and city councilman.

The violent year hasn’t gone unnoticed in the Fort Wayne community.  Churches have launched ministries, people have flooded city council with concerns, and even the business community has stepped up to give at-risk men jobs.

As for Fort Wayne police, York said the change in his gang unit came at the beginning of November.

“If we have probable cause to stop them, we’re going to stop them,” York said about the suspects.

Here’s how:  The vast majority of the time officers say they already knew the shooting victims.  That’s because most of the victims had already been in trouble with the law.

So the gang unit will now use a database of likely offenders or victims and watch them, waiting for the mistake that will get them off the streets.

“If they’re in possession of firearms, drugs, if they have a warrant, they’re going to be arrested.  At this point we feel that this is our best use of our resources to take these people off the street,” York said.  “We have very good intelligence that we’ve gathered over the last eight to nine years that we know who’s involved in what.  But the most dangerous ones…they’re going to be the primary focus of our gang unit under the detective bureau.”

York continued, “We have significant investigations underway to address some of these issues.”

The idea isn’t new.  York said his department got it from Chicago, which has recently been named the murder capital of the U.S.

But despite the new police tactics, York said it will take more community involvement to curb the deadly trend

“We want to get involved proactively, we want to get involved in the community as much as we can but some of the responsibly goes back to families, to communities, to the people that are perpetrating these crimes,” York said.  “We’re on it. There are some things we can control.  There are some things we can’t.”

Chief York said his department has changed one other tactic since the increase in homicides.  It’s now working with the Indiana State Police and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms to take a closer look at shooting evidence.  Their hope is to better connect specific weapons to specific crimes.

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