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Gary, Indiana, picks new police chief after 'heinous' murders

By Mary Wisniewski

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Gary, Indiana, has picked a new police chief and is stepping up crime prevention efforts after the slaying of a police officer and other "heinous" killings, the city's mayor said on Monday.

Gary native Larry McKinley, a 15-year veteran of the city's police force and most recently deputy chief, was chosen to lead the 213-member department. McKinley selected Gary Police Captain Tom Papadakis to come out of retirement to serve as deputy chief.

McKinley will succeed Wade Ingram, who resigned as chief last week.

Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson said the troubled steel town about 30 miles south of Chicago was taking a new, comprehensive approach to crime, which will include allowing residents to anonymously report suspicious activity. The city is also hiring 14 additional police officers.

"Over the past 60 days, the city of Gary has been forced to reckon with some of the most heinous murders seen in decades," Freeman-Wilson said in a statement.

She said such behavior could not be considered "normal, acceptable or usual," and she wanted improved coordination between government and non-governmental entities to enforce the law and prevent crime.

Police officer Jeffrey Westerfield was shot to death in his squad car on July 6. A suspect was charged last week. Also recently, an elderly couple were fatally stabbed in separate incidents. The couple's son has been charged in the mother's death.

Gary has long been a symbol of urban blight. The city has lost about 25,000 steel jobs since the 1970s, and its population shrank to 79,000 in 2012 from 178,000 in 1960.

The city has seen 22 murders so far in 2014. It recorded 43 murders in 2012 - three times as many per capita as Chicago.

Freeman-Wilson said in a statement that McKinley had the "temperament, vision, intellect and integrity to lead." She said his first task would be to submit a plan that addressed getting more officers on the street, the use of technology in crime prevention and officer training and compensation.

Freeman-Wilson has been seeking to revitalize the city with programs like the demolition of derelict properties, such as an abandoned Sheraton Hotel.

(Reporting by Mary Wisniewski)

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