Public housing gets additional police patrols

A public housing complex in Elkhart is about to see its security bolstered.

Thursday night, the Elkhart Housing Authority agreed to spend $15,000 to pay for police patrols in Washington Gardens. The apartment complex consists of 198 subsidized units and is filled with families with small children.

The patrols are nothing new to the neighborhood. Since 1988, the Housing Authority used a police liaison to hire off-duty officers as a security detail. The Housing Authority used federal dollars to pay the officers, but that money was eliminated at the end of 2013.

It didn’t take long for residents to notice the missing police cars. According to Kim Sindle, Executive Director of the Elkhart Housing Authority, residents came to several board meetings and expressed concerns that police patrols were desperately needed to keep things safe.

Washington Gardens has a history of violence. In 2011, a five-year-old boy was shot in the head by his uncle. The following summer a police standoff put the complex on lockdown, only to be followed a few months later by a shooting. The most recent incidence happened Sunday, July 13, 2014 when police responded to yet another shooting.

“I don’t believe the Housing Authority has any other instances where we are seeking to provide police officers to patrol,” explained Vice Chair of the Elkhart Housing Authority Board of Commissioners Dan Boecher, “we have private security at all our sites, but it’s my understanding that this will be the only one we have that has actual off duty police officers patrolling.”

The Housing Authority, said Boecher, is in the business of customer service. As clients, Washington Gardens’ residents said they want more security, they want additional patrols.

Tonda Hines, Elkhart 6th District Councilwoman, sat in on housing authority meetings to speak on behalf of her constituents. She said simply knowing there was an additional police presence gives residents a sense of peace.

“The wanting of that police presence speaks to the quality of life of those living in the area,” said Hines.

Natasha Strikland moved into Washington Gardens from a homeless shelter this year and has never experienced life in the housing complex with the security detail.

“I just told somebody I would probably move back to the shelter than stay here,” said Strickland.

Strickland, like many residents of public housing had limited options when it came to finding a place to live. She said she hopes the police patrols start “sooner rather than later” so as to deter future shootings.

The Elkhart Police Department does regularly patrol the Washington Gardens complex as part of a larger route, however the higher rate of incidents at the complex has residents anxious to get patrols back running.

The $15,000 will be allotted for a several-month period of patrols. At the end of that time, the board will review the effectiveness of the new patrols and determine whether residents and officers are

Sindle said the patrols will resume, “as soon as we can get officers hired.” The new agreement requires for the Housing Authority to directly contract with individual officers instead of going through the city’s police department. Sindle said they expect to have signup sheets available next week, and hope to conduct interviews before the end of July.

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