Police released several photos, including this one, after a 29-year-old man was killed and another was wounded in a shooting that happened after several men got into an argument last month at a gas station in the 4500 block of Broadway. Courtney M. Moss, of Gary, was charged with murder in connection with the shooting. Provided image
Police released several photos, including this one, after a 29-year-old man was killed and another was wounded in a shooting that happened after several men got into an argument last month at a gas station in the 4500 block of Broadway. Courtney M. Moss, of Gary, was charged with murder in connection with the shooting. Provided image
GARY — Shootings with injuries are up considerably this year in Steel City, with 104 gunshot victims recorded by the police department as of Aug. 21.

That's compared to 69 victims who were shot in Gary over the same time period in 2019, according to the department.

Could armed security guards be one of the answers to the city's crime problem?

That’s the question circulating at City Hall these days, as Mayor Jerome Prince’s administration seeks to curb a citywide spike in shootings and homicides through new — and tried and true — ways.

Prince’s administration is proposing that certain 24/7 gas stations and other businesses, such as convenience stores, be required to install security cameras and hired armed security guards, according to an ordinance under review by the Gary Common Council’s Public Safety Committee.

According to the Urban Institute, a Washington D.C.-based nonprofit research group, public surveillance cameras outside businesses is a cost-effective, proven way to deter, document and reduce crime.

In places like the city of Baltimore, surveillance cameras helped solve crimes "that would not have otherwise been solved" — due to uncooperative witnesses, unidentified suspect or a lost weapon, a 2011 report from the Urban Institute stated.

"Camera use, both proactively and reactively, has recorded suspects in action and captured images of getaway vehicles. It has compelled witnesses to cooperate with police, even if they fear retribution, and it has also led police to retrieve weapons used in the commission of a crime, even when a perpetrator discards it prior to apprehension ... " the Institute wrote.

Now, Prince is hoping that will be the case for Gary.

Prince said residents have complained for years about poorly lit gas stations and stores — and how this naturally attracts crimes.

“Last Saturday, I had to go to my kids’ house in Glen Park, and as I was coming back, I stopped at a gas station and the experience I had made me think about it again. I had (our law department) prepare legislation so we can discuss it at length,” Prince said.

Prince said he didn't want to go into details about what happened at the Glen Park gas station, only to say a group was loitering and ignored requests to leave.

He said the issue of crime and safety in Gary goes far beyond his personal experience that night.

Crime is up in Gary — and many of the shootings and homicides you read about in the news are occurring at these 24/7 gas stations, according to Trent A. McCain, Gary corporation counsel.

Crime on the rise

“The mayor is concerned, and when you look at some of the gun violence and homicides, a significant number of those incidents have occurred at gas stations,” McCain said. “These particular spots are open 24/7 a day, and they could benefit from adequate lighting, armed security guards and cameras."

At least one councilman, Ron Brewer, D-at-large, isn’t so sure armed guards are the answer.

“It sends a sure enough message that there’s a safety issue. If we pass this, we may be the only city in the state with a law like this on the books. It’s very strange,” Brewer said.

Fourth District Councilman Dwight Williams, who chairs the Public Safety Committee, said he is 100% in support of the ordinance. He said people loitering and engaging in other criminal activity drives away business and sends the wrong message to patrons.

"The whole thing is public safety. I want everyone to feel safe. I see armed guards all the time outside stores in the nicer, Chicago neighborhoods. I don’t think an armed guard means it’s a bad neighborhood," Williams said.

Williams said three of the four gas stations in his district's Glen Park neighborhood are problematic — but he wouldn't single any particular one out.

"Of the four, there is one that's well-lit, and has no problems. But the others, they allow these elements to exist," he said.

Videos ID suspects

Video from inside gas stations has helped police quickly identify suspects in two recent homicides, Gary Police Cmdr. Jack Hamady told The Times.

After releasing surveillance images after the shooting death of 29-year-old Rayvon Harrison in the early morning hours of Aug. 22 inside a gas station near 45th and Broadway, police were able to quickly identify several people involved, Hamady said.

Police immediately arrested two people in connection with the fatal shooting.

“It was a lot of good work. A lot of long nights,” Hamady said. It was great to have the community’s help, he added.

In another recent case, police released surveillance images of two men accused of gunning down Dorell Townsend, 22, of Gary, May 31 inside a gas station in the 2700 block of West Fifth Avenue.

Information from the community helped police identify Terry L. Horton, 23, of Gary, as one of the suspects, court records show. Horton was charged June 5 with murder, but his case remained sealed until his arrest Aug. 26.

A second suspect, described in court records as an "unidentified person," remains at large, police said.

Complaint-driven process

In 2014, the Gary Common Council passed a similar ordinance mandating security cameras for businesses that operate from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m.

Businesses had a three-month grace period until the ordinance was enforced to comply. Failure to do so after that could have resulted in fines up to $2,500 and revocation of its business license.

At the time of passage, the Gary Police Department reported that in 2013, more than 60 percent of reported crimes and 80 percent of shootings that occurred at gas stations and convenience stores happened in the late evening to early morning hours.

McCain said no cost study has been conducted. And, while McCain said he understands this is an added cost for business, the benefits of added security outweigh those costs.

Brewer said a better solution may be to cite gas stations and other businesses for being a common nuisance, through a complaint-driven process.

“If we’re getting complaints, maybe we need to put in some type of ordinance that allows us to cite and shut them down as a common nuisance,” Brewer said.

Times Staff Writer Sarah Reese contributed to this report.

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