FORT WAYNE – Police Chief Garry Hamilton has a message for the gang members who have turned Fort Wayne into a deadly shooting gallery.
“We know who you are. We know who your friends are. We know what kind of vehicle you drive,” Hamilton said Friday, surrounded by a phalanx of police officers, law enforcement officials and state troopers. “If you continue this behavior, you’ll become the focus of the Fort Wayne Police Department and the people behind me.”
Hamilton’s warning came as he announced the creation of the Gang and Violent Crimes Unit that Mayor Tom Henry alluded to in his State of the City address Wednesday.
Hamilton said the department’s Neighborhood Response Team and its Gang Unit will be combined into one 15-member Gang and Violent Crimes Unit to target individuals known to be involved in gangs or violent crime.
The unit will work seven days a week and partner with the Allen County Prosecutor’s Office, the Allen County Sheriff’s Department, Indiana State Police, FBI, Drug Enforcement Agency, federal prosecutors, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and the U.S. Marshals Service.
“We care about the victims of violence,” Hamilton said. “We can no longer accept this behavior and what’s being done to the city of Fort Wayne.”
Allen County Prosecutor Karen Richards said she has already designated three people in her office to work with the unit.
“It’s going to give my office cases we can prosecute aggressively,” Richards said.
Though the new effort comes just weeks after the end of the deadliest year of homicides Allen County has ever seen, officials said the unit has been in the works for some time and is not in response to the record 45 homicides in 2013.
But they also said they expect that targeting gang activity will cut into violent crime.
“The majority of these crimes are committed by known or suspected gang members,” Hamilton said. “We can saturate an area.”
He also said the Gang and Violent Crimes Unit is not a dragnet that will use racial profiling, but will instead selectively target people already known to be in gangs.
“We are focused on individuals we know are involved in gang activity,” Hamilton said.
“We’re not just making random traffic stops,” he added.
But officials noted they can’t do it alone – they need tips and information from the public.
“We can’t be everywhere,” Hamilton said. “We can’t do it alone – we need the help of the citizens of Fort Wayne.”
Officials said people can share information anonymously by calling 427-1262 or online at fwpd.org.
Henry said the effort will bear fruit.
“I believe we will have positive results almost immediately,” Henry said. “We can make a difference.”