Slain Gary officer remembered for professionalism
BY TERESA AUCH SCHULTZ Sun-Times Media July 7, 2014 6:12PM
Updated: July 7, 2014 10:54PM
A day after a fellow officer was found gunned down, local police remembered Gary, Ind., Patrolman Jeffrey Westerfield as someone they knew they could trust.
Although police had a “person of interest” in custody, no one had been charged in Westerfield’s death as of Monday afternoon.
Jerome Krebes, who retired from the Gary Police Department nine years ago as a commander, said he was shocked when he heard of Westerfield’s killing.
“My reaction was, ‘Why him?’ ” Krebes said.
He said Westerfield was a dedicated and competent officer, someone who would show up 20 minutes early every day before roll call and who could be trusted to handle his job.
“He would do his job, he’d never complain,” Krebes said.
The retired commander never heard any complaints from citizens about Westerfield, which wasn’t the case with all officers. Westerfield also never had any disciplinary problems under Krebes, he said.
“If I could have had 15 of him on my turn, I’d never have worried about a thing,” Krebes said. “There wouldn’t need to be a supervisor.”
Joe Hamer, who worked with the Gary Police Department until December 2011 and now works with the Indiana Fraternal Order of Police, occasionally worked with Westerfield on overtime shifts.
“Whenever I was around him, Jeff was a friend,” Hamer said. “I dearly cared for him.”
Westerfield always had a smile on his face and could be counted on to help out when needed. Hamer said he attended the police academy with Westerfield’s ex-wife, Dawn, who also works for the Gary Police Department, and would study at the Westerfields’ house for a particularly tough course.
“I heard Jeff sitting in the living room saying, ‘Come on, Joe, you can get this,’ ” Hamer said.
A citizen discovered Westerfield, who had responded to a dispatch call, unresponsive in his squad car just before 6 a.m. Sunday — Westerfield’s 47th birthday .
Responding police discovered he had been shot in the head, which sparked a manhunt involving numerous local agencies. The search led to a residence just a few blocks away from where Westerfield was found and where police found a “person of interest” and two other people who also were taken into custody, police said. Lake County, Ind., Sheriff John Buncich, who could not be reached for comment Monday, said Sunday that the person of interest suffered a gunshot wound to the leg and was taken to Methodist Hospitals Southlake.
No charges had been filed as of Monday night. Gary Police Chief Wade Ingram did not detail the progress of the investigation but said the Lake County Sheriff’s Department was working with the Lake County Prosecutor’s Office.
“It’s an ongoing investigation, and our officers are continuing to follow leads,” Ingram said.
Officers also were back on the job investigating a homicide at 21st and Martin Luther King Drive.
Hamer, as chair of the Indiana FOP’s Critical Incident/Memorial Service Committee, will help plan funeral arrangements, including the honors.
The committee already helped arrange the funeral service for Tipton County Sheriff’s Deputy Jacob Calvin, who died June 28 in a car crash while on duty. His funeral was Monday.
The committee must now also help with the services for an Indianapolis officer, Perry Renn, who also was shot to death while on duty over the weekend. Because of the circumstances, Homer said, half of the committee, which is made up of about 12 to 15 officers from across the state, will work in Gary to help with Westerfield’s arrangements while the other half go to Indianapolis.
Hamer said that dealing with three fallen officers at the same time takes its toll but that the committee is focused on ensuring they are honored respectfully and that their families and departments are taken care of.
“The lack of sleep we may feel is nothing to what the survivors may be feeling,” he said.
Hamer said he was planning to meet with Westerfield’s family later Monday.
Other local police departments expressed sorrow for the loss of a fellow officer.
East Chicago Police Chief Mark Becker said Westerfield’s death was a reminder to all officers about the danger of their job.
“There’s a lot of anger, there’s a lot of questions as to why would someone act out in this manner,” he said. “You just shake your head.”
He noted that the killing had brought departments across the region together, as many showed up Sunday to help out however they could.
“All of us are vulnerable, and any one of us could be taken any day,” Becker said.
Sgt. Mike Grennes, spokesman for the Valparaiso Police Department, said the department’s thoughts are always with the family and their fellow officers when a cop dies in the line of duty.
“Anytime something like this happens, it’s a huge loss,” he said. “It makes everybody stop and think and reflect on what’s going on.”
Westerfield’s death marked the first time a Gary officer died while on duty since August 2007, when Benjamin Wilcher Jr. died after his car crashed while he was pursuing someone.
Other recent on-duty deaths include Louis Donald, who also died in a car crash in August 2001, and Dorian Rorex, who was shot to death in 1998.