Plans to restore police patrols in Elkhart complex gains approval

Housing authority will have more control under new agreement with off-duty police.

Posted on July 17, 2014 at 8:11 p.m.

ELKHART — Members of the Elkhart Housing Authority agreed Thursday to spend $15,000 to pay for police patrols in Washington Gardens.

A longstanding agreement with the housing authority and city lapsed at the end of 2013 after the housing authority was told to stop using federal money for police patrols.

The new plan is different in several ways compared with previous arrangements in which the housing authority paid the city for off-duty city police officers to patrol the 198-unit complex on Benham Avenue, just west of the housing authority offices.

The agreement comes less than a week after a shooting that injured a man in the apartments.

Plans for new patrols also brought to light some dissatisfaction over aspects of past patrols. Among the concerns mentioned were that patrols apparently sometimes left the apartment complex and that some officers lacked enthusiasm about the work.

Those concerns were addressed under the new plan.

Instead of reimbursing the city for the patrols, the housing authority will directly hire officers on a contractual basis.

Officers will be given an outline of expectations, according to Kim Sindle, executive director of the housing authority.

The new agreement will allow the housing authority to hire and fire individual officers, Sindle said.

Those expectations are contained in packets shared with board members Thursday. A copy will be shared with the police department, Sindle said.

Unlike previous agreements, which date back to 1988, money for the patrols will come from the Washington Gardens budget and not federal money.

Officials declined to announce the hours of patrols or even how long patrols could continue with $15,000 in funding.

While it’s not formally being viewed as a test run, board member Dan Boecher said he’d like to see the board review the effectiveness of the program within a matter of months.

The policy change was approved by a 5-1 vote.

“Something needs to be done and done now — not wait until a kid or whoever gets hurt over there,” said board member Margaret Owens.

City council members Brent Curry and Tonda Hines attended the meeting and supported the move.

Pressure to restore the patrols gained momentum after a nearby resident of Washington Gardens, Dionell Hill, spoke before city council in early May and expressed concerns.

Curry credited Hill for bringing the issue to light.

“It just helps when people speak out and say ‘I care,’” Curry said.

Hill downplayed his role, saying, “What I did was a small thing. But everybody coming together, that’s what counts. That’s what’s big.”

The new patrols, he said, “can only enhance” circumstances at the apartment complex.

The lone vote against the plan came from Cory White, who said the agency’s role of providing safe housing refers to eliminating any physical hazards in apartments and police protection, which is traditionally a function provided by the city through tax dollars.

He also expressed concern with the past performance of patrols, the lack of cooperation of residents to work with police and the cost of insurance in covering the liability of the officers.

Board member Len Paff said he believed something had to be done and supported it because it includes a plan to review of the program.

“We can’t simply introduce the police to a problem and expect to get any different results than we did before,” Paff said. “We need to do something different and get everyone involved. Staff, management, the commission and particularly the residents that we’re trying to help.”

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