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Council gives safety director preliminary OK

But Glynn Hines challenges York to find new strategy for fighting violence

Tuesday, December 3, 2013 - 7:17 pm

Only hours after Allen County had apparently tied its 16-year-old record for homicides, City Council Tuesday unanimously approved a new position one member made clear will be expected to shake things up in order to save lives.

“We need a new strategy, a new plan,” said Glynn Hines, D-6th, shortly before council's preliminary 9-0 vote confirming Mayor Tom Henry's nomination of Police Chief Rusty York as the city's first public safety director since 1999. “Some people may be wondering, why promote (York) when crime is up? My challenge to (him) is to work more intensively to prevent and solve crimes, to get violence off the street.”

Many of the city's homicides this year have been in Hines' southeast-side district.

The county recorded 44 homicides in 1997 but would tie that record this year – with nearly a month remaining – if a shooting Tuesday afternoon on Oliver Street is ruled a homicide. York left little doubt that will be the case, telling council it appeared to be an “execution-style” killing.

Although York did not promise he can stop violence, he told council homicides are cyclical and most recently have featured people with criminal records as both perpetrator and victim.

“There are a lot of dynamics. Police should take the guns and bad guys off the street, but they can't be everywhere. But if I didn't think I could do this job, I'd be home watching the meeting on TV,” York said, noting that despite the homicide rate, violent and property crimes “are at their lowest point in 30 years.”

York said the addition of the new position would add about $55,000 to the city's 2014 budget, mostly from the “domino effect” of promoting other officers to fill vacancies created by his promotion. Deputy Mayor Karl Bandemer said a safety director, which will supervise police, fire, communications, animal control and other departments, “will be able to act in a strategic manner. Public safety is too important to handle otherwise.”

Fort Wayne's combined public safety budget is about $98 million, Bandemer noted.

Also Tuesday, Council gave preliminary approval to accepting a $1.25 million federal grant that will help pay for 10 additional police officers in 2015 and 2016, with the city picking up the total cost in later years. Those officers will be especially valuable in fighting street violence, York said, and one will be assigned to work with federal Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms officers.

Final votes could come as soon as next week.