Fort Wayne officials Wednesday shared police and fire plans for this year during a news conference as Mayor Tom Henry reiterated that public safety remains a top priority.
“The collective work done by these divisions should provide everyone with a level of comfort in knowing that Fort Wayne is a safe city and that we are, in fact, moving in the right direction,” Henry said.
Last year, crime decreased from 2020 with 6% less overall crime and 36% less violent crime.
City officers took 850 guns off the streets – guns that were stolen or were carried by people not allowed to possess them, Police Chief Steve Reed said. Of those firearms, 39 were related to homicides.
Fort Wayne is lucky, Reed said, to not have a rise in violent crimes like many other cities have, and the city department hopes to continue the trend.
“We'd love to do even more,” he said. “In 2022, we are increasing the size of the police department to 485.”
The city police department currently has 461 officers but will reach its goal of 485 officers with the upcoming recruit class, Reed said. In 2022, the department will also have all uniform operations personnel – about 320 – equipped with body cameras.
Two social workers were hired by the department to work with the Hope and Recovery Team, which connected 371 people with addiction treatment and recovery services in 2021.
The department also plans to start the Drone as First Responder program, in which drones can be sent to potentially dangerous crime scenes before officers make first contact.
The potential program raised questions from Fort Wayne City Council members during budget discussions in October, but the council ultimately approved $130,000 for a Dragonfish drone and $70,000 for first responder drone kits, among other air support unit requests.
The department already has a “robust” drone program, Reed said, but the new drone will allow officers to fly the drone farther. The drones will be used to surveil specific locations.
“They don't just fly around,” he said. “Like if we know at 123 Main St. that we have a problem, then we'll put a drone over 123 Main St. and say, 'Hey, here's what's happening.'”
An additional sergeant will also be added to the homicide unit.
Fire Chief Eric Lahey shared progress made by firefighters as first responders in 2021 with a continued focus on training. In 2020 and 2021, the department's training division developed a new online training platform that helps firefighters stay current on training.
Firefighters completed 110,000 hours of training with 2,000 hours of live fire training.
This year, every firefighter also will participate in a comprehensive emergency vehicle driver operator course.
Ground will be broken on Fire Station 14, which will be at the southeast corner of State Boulevard and Reed Road. The city fire department will also receive two engine replacements.
In 2021, 14 new firefighter recruits – each holding advanced life support certifications – joined the department.
Almost half of the department's 27,000 calls in 2021 were associated with emergency medical response, Lahey said.
The department is also expecting to grow as 24 recruits will go through training this year.
The department said it also completed more than 300 fire investigations and completed 276 programs that reached more than 6,000 local students and 400 adults.
Lahey said the statistics he presented show the first responders' dedication to saving lives. The last two years has been hard on everyone as they navigated the COVID-19 pandemic, he noted.
“Not only for our citizens has it been a couple of hard years,” he said, “but for our first responders as well.”