Fort Wayne police officers are feeling frustrated and angry at recent violence directed at police, including Sunday’s fatal shootings of three officers in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Chief Garry Hamilton told members and guests of the downtown Rotary Club at a luncheon Monday.
But "they’re still out there, doing their jobs," said Hamilton, who will step down as chief of the Fort Wayne Police Department on Aug. 1.
Hamilton said local officers "have to be on high alert" daily because of situations that can quickly turn dangerous or deadly.
"Sometimes we take things for granted or get too comfortable. … You can’t take it for granted that it (a shooting of police officers) can’t happen in Fort Wayne. You have to be mindful, each and every day."
Hamilton’s remarks came during a presentation, "Building Trust Between Law Enforcement and People of Color." Hamilton, who is black, showed a video detailing the history of enforcement against, and killing of, blacks during the civil rights era in the South to underscore why distrust runs deep.
He said Fort Wayne police officers have not been subject to as much animosity as in other cities, but are nonetheless working on several initiatives to help broaden community involvement.
Without seeking publicity, officers have done a winter coat drive in cooperation with the Fort Wayne Rescue Mission, have regular "Coffee with a Cop" sessions, are recruiting in the Burmese-American commuity and attend Neighborhood Partnership and Mayor’s Roundtable meetings, Hamilton said.
Recently, when police made arrests in two homicides because people came forward, he said, he held a press conference to commend them for it and ask for more cooperation.
He said the theory behind such efforts is that people can hate from afar, but it’s much harder when they know someone close-up.
Hamilton said the department can’t prevent a lone wolf ambush, which apparently happened Sunday in Baton Rouge.
Less than two weeks after the July 5 killing of Alton Sterling, a black man, by a Baton Rouge officer, three officers were killed and three more wounded by a gunman identified as Gavin Long of Missouri. Long was fatally shot by police.
Hamilton said local officers are more often responding in pairs to calls to protect each other – and he urged residents to recognize that if stopped. He asked them to try to understand what officers go through.
When something bad involving an officer takes place somewhere else, police everywhere "feel betrayed and put in a bad light," Hamilton said. "It affects officers all across the country."