A Collaborative Approach to Combating Crime in Gary, Indiana’s Hardest Hit Areas


Gary, IN was founded in 1906 as an industrial city focused on steel production. By 1960, the city’s population stood at 178,000 and U.S. Steel – then the city’s largest employer – boasted a 25,000-person workforce.* Gary was also made popular by the 1962 musical, The Music Man. However, Gary’s fortunes changed with new technological advances and the rise of low-cost foreign competition. Today, U.S. Steel employs fewer than 5,000 workers and the city’s population has fallen to under 78,000.** As Gary Police Department (GPD) Special Operations Commander Brian Evans noted, the loss of U.S. Steel jobs had a broader impact across the community. “For every one U.S. Steel worker, another six livable jobs were created,” said Commander Evans. “[Downsizing] actually meant losing much more jobs. In turn, the city’s ability to deal with everything shrank.”

The difficulties of a declining population go beyond a declining tax base; it has had tremendous effects on crime in the city. Gary has faced major challenges stemming from an increased crime rate in the areas around the abandoned and rundown buildings, of which there are more than 10,000 according to Commander Evans. These issues came to head when suspected serial killer Darren Deon Vann was arrested in 2014 and admitted to hiding at least six bodies in vacant buildings. Commander Evans, the entire GPD, and community leaders knew something needed to change.

A Collaborative Approach to Revitalization

In order to tackle the broader challenges of economic opportunity and community revitalization, Gary became an active participant in a number of national initiatives, including Strong Cities, Strong Communities (SC2) and My Brother’s Keeper. The city also developed one comprehensive community safety and violent crime reduction strategy called Gary for Life. This strategy is based on the success of a model created in New Orleans, LA, called New Orleans for Life; Gary worked with New Orleans to adapt the program to fit Gary’s needs. Gary was also awarded Hardest Hit Funds, which provide assistance to demolish abandoned and dilapidated houses.

Community leaders and local organizations remain committed to revitalizing the appearance of Gary as well. The city started the 5x5x5 Revitalization Project where once a month representatives from across the city government come together with community members and target a five-block area to demolish homes, tow cars, and generally remove sources of blight.

Crime Analysis on Demand and Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design

In addition to participating in national and local initiatives, Gary also began working with the Office of Justice Program’s (OJP) Diagnostic Center in January 2013 to develop a holistic approach to improve public safety and reduce violent crime. The Diagnostic Center found violent crime patterns (e.g., more than two-thirds of all homicides occurred in four neighborhoods), indicating a need to better target response strategies. The Diagnostic Center’s recommendations included enhancing data use, improving community-police relations, and developing violent crime response strategies focused on high-crime areas. The GPD took steps to implement the Diagnostic Center’s recommendations and now conducts a weekly review of data from the previous week in order to track deployments and better target where crime is occurring.

In order to take this work further, the GPD wanted to use data more proactively, in real-time, to make decisions about officer deployment and to help identify strategies and tactics that are customized to high-crime neighborhoods. As Commander Evans observed, “Crime analysis is a foundation of the other programs.” In addition, the GPD required a sustainable solution to keep areas clean long-term, in order to address the pattern of high rates of violent crime in blighted areas per the Diagnostic Center’s recommendations. The Diagnostic Center referred Gary to the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) National Training and Technical Assistance Center (NTTAC) in order to make additional TTA available in the areas of Crime Analysis on Demand and Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design.

Crime Analysis on Demand (CAoD): This TTA helped address the Diagnostic Center’s recommendations around enhancing data use, quality, and management. BJA NTTAC consultant CRH Crime Analysis Consulting worked with the GPD to enhance the use of the data being produced by its crime analysis unit. The GPD currently collects much of its data using a dispatch system where officers input data on every call they go to. The GPD requested assistance in integrating this data to make it a part of the officer’s everyday culture. To address these needs, CRH Crime Analysis Consulting staff conducted preparatory research, followed by a site visit to meet with key stakeholders, including information technology personnel and patrol representatives. Lastly, CRH Crime Analysis Consulting developed a final report in October 2015 that summarized the analysis and recommended skill-building opportunities to improve the department’s use of data.

Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED): In June 2015, two trainers from the Virginia Center for Policing Innovation (VPCI) met with Gary community members, including GPD patrol officers, SC2 representatives, community leadership, and representatives from the Mayor’s office, and visited areas that have been problematic for the GPD. This group expressed major concerns about criminal activity and blight surrounding abandoned structures. Using the information gathered, VCPI assessed the extent to which existing programs, partnerships, and resources were being used to address these issues. VCPI then developed a customized CPTED training plan. CPTED strategies center on crime deterrence by changes to the physical environment, for example by encouraging community gatherings to increase natural surveillance, or by ensuring routine maintenance to promote a sense of property ownership.

The resultant three-day training covered a foundational overview of CPTED, code enforcement strategies, and a problem-solving workshop where participants were divided into teams in order to build specific CPTED and code enforcement action plans. One of the GPD’s main accomplishments through this training was bringing in the community, including religious groups and tenant councils, to jointly address issues surrounding blight.

“This training enhanced the current efforts Gary is involved with,” said Commander Evans. “With CPTED, Gary can design ways to work with community members to keep target areas clean in the long-term.”

Although the city continues to face challenges, Commander Evans and Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson are confident that they can use a collaborative approach to combat crime in Gary’s hardest hit areas.

“We understand how important it is to take a comprehensive approach to crime and public safety,” said Mayor Freeman-Wilson. “While we appreciate and value public safety officers, we know that residents play a critical role in crime prevention. We appreciate the training and technical assistance from [the Department of Justice] because it has allowed us to galvanize resources that are more far reaching than money.”

*Read more in a USA Today article.

**For more information, see the U.S. Census Bureau Gary Quick Facts

If your agency or community is experiencing similar issues and would like to apply for technical assistance, please contact BJA NTTAC at BJANTTAC@ojp.usdoj.gov to discuss your unique criminal justice needs.

To submit the work of your organization or jurisdiction for consideration to be featured in a future BJA NTTAC TTA Spotlight, please email BJANTTAC@ojp.usdoj.gov.