He began as a patrolman in the 1980s, cruising along streets on the southeast side where he grew up.
Nineteen years later, Garry A. Hamilton is now at the helm of the Fort Wayne Police Department.
Sworn in Jan. 2 to replace former Chief Rusty York, who is now the city’s public safety director, Hamilton, 52, is the first black to be selected to the post in Fort Wayne history.
He also inherits the role after a year in which Allen County had a record-tying number of homicides, 44. Last week, Hamilton sat down with The Journal Gazette to talk about the direction he believes the department should go.
Q. What is the biggest crime issue facing Fort Wayne?
A. Our biggest crime issue is definitely addressing the homicides and shootings here in the city of Fort Wayne. That’s our biggest issue we’re going to address, but also robberies and other violent crimes.
Q. You say you want to tackle homicides first and foremost. You’re taking office after a record-breaking year. What’s the first thing you do?
A. One, look at the staffing levels that we have in our detective bureau and see that they’re getting the proper training. That’s a concern for me.
And also, we have a liaison that went back to the Allen County Prosecutor’s Office. His name is Detective Tom Bandor. One of my concerns is we’re getting away from the practice we had years ago where we’d always sit down and have a debriefing the day after or a week after a homicide.
We’d sit down with all the parties involved, including the prosecutor’s office, the detectives and the crime scene technicians.
We want to bring those people back to the table again and sit down to review that particular homicide case, make sure all the witnesses have been located, whether the suspects have been identified and make sure everybody is on the same page.
Q. Do you know why the department got away from that?
A. I think with the number of crimes, those same detectives get called out for shootings now too. The number of crimes I think have pushed detectives to the brink with a heavy case load. We have six different homicide teams to relieve some of the pressure.
Q. How does your experience on the force help you as chief?
A. You know, I think my experience on the force, one, growing up in the community, being active in the community, being involved in the community, especially the southeast side, maintaining that contact with the clergy and other social organizations within the community will help.
I think that experience will help me maintain those relationships.
Q. Where’d you grow up?
A. I grew up on Masterson Street and went to Northrop High School.
Q. Were you ever a patrolman in that area?
Q. Are the same families still there?
A. There are few existing families from the time I grew up. There’s only a few existing families that were there from the 1960s.
Q. How’s the working relationship with Public Safety Director Rusty York?
A. It’s a good fit. It’s a good relationship to have the former chief of police to be the public safety director and have a good relationship with the mayor. I can speak for my command staff that they have a good relationship with York and the mayor as well.
Q. Tell me your reaction the minute you found out you would be selected police chief?
A. It was surprising that I was selected. To be honest, the other candidate was (Assistant Police Chief) Steve Reed. He and I work well together. He was the deputy chief of the southwest quadrant, and I was deputy chief of the southeast. We always read through ideas and thoughts on how to tackle things or problems together.
Either one of us would’ve been a good choice as chief of police of Fort Wayne. If Steve would’ve been selected, he’d have my full cooperation and I would do anything he requested me to do, and I feel Steve would do the same thing.
Q. I know you want to bring the number of homicides down, but is that one of the harder-to-prevent crimes because of its nature?
A. To be honest with you, I believe so.
When you have a group of individuals who are out there committing a number of other crimes, like robberies and drug transactions, they’re targeted. They know who they’re dealing with. As a result of those criminal activities, it happens.
You have the drug trade, rival gang members who are also into the drug business – they put themselves in that position. We have some innocent victims of homicide, true innocent victims. They’re all victims, but we have individuals who put themselves in harm’s way by their criminal activity.
If you plan a drug deal and you rob me and then the next time I see you, and I’m going to get you back for robbing me, there’s no way we can prevent that.
I know love loss for any family member is tough. Believe me, our hearts go out to those families. We really care. People might think we may not care. I spent 14 years in homicide and you never forget the families you work with and the pain of not being able to bring closure to some of the family members.
One of the great things is that some of the people, even if you aren’t able to give them closure, you still have contact. And the anniversary date comes and you receive a call from a family member saying, We appreciate you and the work you’ve done. We do care. I know people think we don’t care, but we think about it at night.
We really do.