Updated: February 4, 2012 11:45AM
It was once called the murder capital of the United States.
But the number of murders dropped so far last year in Gary, Ind., that city officials say they can’t recall the last time it was so low.
Thirty-five people died violently last year. That’s down from 54 violent deaths in 2010, 50 in 2009 and 40 in 2008.
The number in 2010 put the city’s per-capita murder rate atop the list of communities with populations of 50,000 to 99,999 in data reported in the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report. The population is 80,294.
But the totals are way down from 110 in 1993, when the city’s population was higher, and the city had the nation’s highest murder rate of any large city.
The population was as high as 175,000 in 1970.
Despite the decrease, Gary police Sgt. John Jelks, a veteran investigator and coordinator of the department’s Narcotics-Vice Unit, said most of the victims continue to be young black men linked to gangs or drugs. He said many come from outside the city.
“Gary has received flak for being the murder capital and supplier of drugs to other communities, but people come into our city daily and contribute to the drug problem, which contributes to crime,” Jelks said. “It hurts the city and its citizens. The drug money goes to different gangs to re-supply drugs, buy weapons and continues to victimize the good people of the city.”
Outsiders who believe that innocent people are likely to be the victims of a violent death are wrong, Jelks said. “If you are involved in drugs, then you’re involved in criminal activity, and it makes you more likely to be the victim,” he said.
The final death, technically not classified as a homicide yet, was the discovery of a burned, decomposed body found Christmas Eve in a Midtown alley.
New Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson said that by improving communication between residents and police officers, the community will be safer.
“I want to bring community-oriented policing to the city in its truest and purest form. People don’t typically do homicides in a vacuum. There is always someone who knows something, and the only way you get people to talk is to have them see police officers as individuals who can help solve a problem,” she said.