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Samuel Hoffman | The Journal Gazette
Fort Wayne Police Chief Garry Hamilton, far right, oversees the weekly COMSTAT meeting with, from left, Deputy Chiefs Karl Niblick (northwest quadrant), Stephen Haffner (southwest quadrant), Derrick Westfield (southeast quadrant), James Feasel (northeast quadrant) and Assistant Chief Steve Reed.

Weekly meeting keeps officers on top of trends

– Some are clad in uniforms, while others don civilian clothes. One even has the thick beard of someone working undercover.

It’s Thursday, 9 a.m., and a few are walking into the second-floor conference room in the Rousseau Centre downtown with their morning coffee in hand.

All of them, the more than two dozen officers, detectives, supervisors and officials who work for various law enforcement agencies soon take seats facing the new Fort Wayne police chief and his command staff.

They call this COMSTAT, and it’s a weekly meeting where law enforcement officials can speak to each other, check with each other and analyze each other’s local crime trends of the previous week.

Within a minute or so of everyone being seated, it begins.

Around the room, police captains and others take turns going over what happened in their sector.

A robbery of a gas station and Dollar General within a day of each other earlier in the week might be related.

The robbery of a pizza joint might be the work of an employee and a former employee.

There’s a man who has called the FBI threatening to shoot any police officer who steps on his property. One ATF agent has listened to the messages and calls them amusing.

Still, any officers going near there are told to be advised.

Then there’s a man in custody accused of bilking Menards out of more than $15,000; another man was arrested at the southwest-side Kohl’s store trying to change price tags on items.

That man had been going from store to store throughout the city, scamming businesses.

Another man arrested for shoplifting is suspected of robbery and theft, among other crimes, on the southwest side.

With a click of the button, this man’s mug shot is put on a board at the front of the conference room.

“He was killing us southwest,” says Deputy Chief Stephen Haffner of the Fort Wayne Police Department, who oversees the southwest quadrant.

“You name it, he was doing it.”

Meanwhile, the soft-spoken Garry A. Hamilton, the head of the Fort Wayne Police Department as of Jan. 2, quietly listens.

He lets his command staff do most of the talking, listening as more crimes and suspects are discussed.

Someone’s $5,000 diamond ring was stolen but returned.

“Bet someone was glad to have that back,” someone says.

A woman’s safe with all her prescription pills was pilfered from her home, she told police. It’s the fourth time it’s happened.

The ATF announced there will soon be an additional $10,000 reward for a double homicide last summer in which two people were found in a burning home on Senate Avenue.

One thing that has not happened so far under Hamilton’s watch is a homicide.

His tenure as chief began just days after the end of Allen County’s record-tying year with 44 killings, most of them in Fort Wayne.

Later, he’ll say in an interview that many people might not think the department cares about homicide victims. He knows they think that, but they’re wrong.

He worked homicides for 14 years and he’ll say, “We think about them at night.”

But instead of homicides on this Thursday, he’s hearing about robberies and burglaries. He’s hearing about shoplifting trends and vehicle thefts.

There’s a search warrant being served in Aboite Township now regarding a sex crime, someone says.

A baby taken to a hospital in critical condition one night is now in foster care, as the people who were taking care of the child might be involved in drugs.

A man has been running a fake landscaping company out of Fort Wayne, scamming money from people as far away as Adams County, one captain says.

Hamilton takes it all in, offering a few reporters to be present, offering to show the public a little glimpse of how the police are tackling crime.

And at the end, he sends his officers back out.

“Thank you for your time,” he says. “Be careful out there.”

jeffwiehe@jg.net

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