Orlando mayor recalls carnage at nightclub massacre

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Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — Throughout the 84th Annual Conference of U.S. Mayors, attendees have expressed support for one of their own and wondered if the same unspeakable tragedy that recently befell his city could happen back home in their community.

Orlando, Florida, Mayor Buddy Dyer addressed the Conference two weeks to the day after a gunman armed with a semi-automatic assault-style rifle opened fired in a nightclub, killing 49 and wounding dozens more.

“At three a.m., I get the phone call that every one of you dread getting,” said Dyer who then told the mayors how Orlando’s public safety officers, coroner and citizens responded to the tragedy.

“We live in a new world,” said Dyer. “A world that any one of our cities could be the site of this kind of intentional mass casualty event. A world where each one of our cities needs to be better prepared to respond to this type of incident.

“Its strange to turn on a tv in someplace like Indianapolis,” he said, “and still have Orlando be one of the lead news stories and it almost doesn’t feel real, but we know at some point the cameras are going to leave and at that point our pain will remain and the pain of picking up the pieces will remain.

“Communicating with the public is the mayor’s most important job,” Dyer reminded his peers. “As mayors it shows the daily work of being a mayor and touching your people.”

Dyer said Orlando responded quickly to the mass killing because of the city’s investment in operations, technology, tools and training.

“You have to have good people and then you have to turn them loose and let them perform.”

Despite finding his city at the crosshairs of the debate over mass casualty weapons and the congressional gridlock over gun safety legislation, Dyer explained why he avoided calling for more protections in the address to the nation’s mayors.

“I want to stay away from politics and the heated topics that are discussed onto  the national news,” he said. “There are a lot of politics involved in this country that might yet define how to prevent these sorts of attacks: guns, terrorism, equality, fairness, big, big difficult issues, and overcoming those challenges is going to take a willingness to forge partnerships and the ability to stop vilifying other Americans who don’t agree with you, something that our country doesn’t seem to be able to do very well lately.”

Following the speech Dyer was embraced by Indianapolis host Mayor Joe Hogsett.

Across town from the mayors’ meeting, parishioners at Holy Spirit Catholic Church followed a cross outside their sanctuary to a tent where they gathered to remember the life of a church member recently slain and pray for peace, even if they’re not sure how to get it.

“We’re here to pray but we’re also here to encourage people to find ways to end the violence here,” said Father Paul Kotter. “The problem is one that has to be faced on a local level and that starts in our local communities.”

Downtown at the JW Marriott that solution is being sought by mayors who contend that unlike lawmakers in Washington and state capitols, they get things done.

“Field generals,” in the war on crime was the way New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu put it.

On display outside the main conference rooms where mayors met to listen to a top White House advisor and the woman who wants to be the next president were a pair of booths representing a business and a non-profit special interest group, each with their own piece of the violent crime solution pie.

Mayors Against Illegal Guns this month released a comprehensive report titled, “Strategies for Reducing Gun Violence in American Cities.”

The group has maintained a low-key presence at this week’s mayors conference.

The report explores the causes and means of gun violence and proposes multiple partial solutions to the problem.

Its data compares Indianapolis against 39 other large American cities, most notably, Columbus, Ohio.

Indianapolis ranks 14th in the nation in population while Columbus is one notch behind.

Last year Indianapolis recorded 144 murders while Columbus listed just 78 criminal homicides.

Indianapolis’ rate of 14.3 murders per 100,000 residents is almost double that of Columbus’

Some of the strategies listed by the Mayors Against Illegal Guns report are being implemented by Hogsett and IMPD Chief Troy Riggs including improved examination of seized guns, more aggressive community policing and attempts to target poverty issues plaguing many of the city’s most violent neighborhoods.

One idea that was considered and rejected in the last decade included bringing gunshot audio tracking technology to Indianapolis.

“Shotspotter” locates as many as 20 audio sensors in a square mile area to record and report gunshots to police dispatchers or officers’ laptops or cell phones.

Former South Bend Police Chief Ron Teachman brought the technology to his northern Indiana city two years ago after he found officers were hearing and responding to only a fraction of the gunshots on their beats.

“In South Bend we found it to be as low as 11%,” said Teachman, Shotspotter’s Midwest Regional Director. “That means 89% of the time shots were being fired in the community of South Bend where Shotspotter is now located and we’re being notified.”

Teachman said his city signed a two year, $300,000 contract to eventually locate sensors in a four square mile area in one of South Bend’s most violent communities.

“We found that our evidence collection went from five percent up to sixty percent, our solvability went up, our ability to identify perpetrators, but most importantly we changed the narrative in the community from, ‘The police don’t care,’ to, ‘The police are there.’”

Even a partial solution is enough of a start for Terrell Harris whose brother, Andre Phillips, was murdered June 16th on the city’s northeast side.

“We want a proven strategy to reduce the gun violence here in the state,” said Harris. “I think allowing people to have guns and holding people responsible for those guns I think it would make it better.

“We need to start holding people reliable. Gun makers. Gun owners. Gun users. We need to start holding them responsible for those guns.”

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