A house in the 1100 block of Lane Street in Gary, where two teens were killed in a shooting last week, was firebombed early this week, police said.(Carole Carlson, Post-Tribune)

A house in the 1100 block of Lane Street in Gary, where two teens were killed in a shooting last week, was firebombed early this week, police said.(Carole Carlson, Post-Tribune)

The Lake County Sheriff's Department plans to double the number of officers patrolling Gary streets to battle a spike in homicides this summer.

"It is an escalating problem," Sheriff John Buncich told the Lake County Council, which approved $200,000 in overtime Tuesday to pay for the patrols.

Since July 1, there have been at least 16 homicides in the city, including two overnight Monday. Buncich said the department's forensic team, along with officers on the combined homicide unit, has been working day and night and there is no end in sight to the violence.

Buncich blamed much of the problem on gangs and drugs. Gangs are fighting over customers who come to the city from neighboring communities to buy drugs, the sheriff said. In some cases, young drug buyers and innocent bystanders are killed in the gunbattles.

"Several of these homicides … are occurring in broad daylight," Buncich said. "I've never seen so many guns on the street."

One person arrested recently had a 50-round clip, he said.

The rise in homicides comes as more and more Gary police officers leave the force. The city has lost 28 officers since the beginning of the year, many to better-paying departments, officials said. Police in Gary are the lowest paid in Lake County.

"This is an emergency situation in the city," Lake County Commissioner Roosevelt Allen Jr. said, adding that the overtime would be a short-term measure while Gary officials reorganize the police force and find new revenue to raise the pay of its officers.

Councilmen Dan Dernulc, R-Highland, and Eldon Strong, R-Crown Point, said they support helping the city during the "surge" in violent crime but warned that other options needed to be pursued.

"If this is going to be an ongoing issue, there has to be some tough discussions with the city. We are all in this together, too," Dernulc said.

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