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First African-American Fort Wayne police chief retires

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (Fort Wayne’s NBC) — The man who served as the Summit City’s first African-American chief of police has officially retired, but his mark will be felt for years to come.

“If Garry Hamilton who grew up on the southeast side of Fort Wayne can become a chief then anybody could do it,” he says.

During his 25-year career, Garry Hamilton rose through the ranks of the Fort Wayne police department to become the city’s first African-American police chief, serving in that capacity from 2014 to 2016, when he stepped down.

He’d received death threats and lost more sleep than he cares to admit because he was concerned about his officers on the street.

“Let’s continue to fight the good fight. My time is up, but I’m passing it on to you guys. Keep up the good work,” Hamilton told his colleagues.

Hamilton’s move to deupty chief of investigations also allowed him to focus on his passion — connecting with the community — which is one of the qualities Mayor Tom Henry wanted to highlight when he appointed him chief.

“Right away, Garry told me that there was a void in communications between the citizens and the police department, something we were struggling with for quite a while. He recognized it right away and began to develop programs and initiatives to help correct that,” Henry says.

Current Police Chief Steve Reed served as Hamilton’s assistant chief, and says one of the biggest contributions Hamilton made at the top was to create the Gang and Violent Crimes Unit.

“The excellent work that they do. Year after year they’ve set record after record of recovering illegal firearms and getting those off the street. Which you can’t always say that it’s going to prevent something, but more than likely it did,” Reed says.

People also talk about his leadership style, the way he connects with people, which likely comes from Hamilton’s compassion and respect for them.

“To see the hurt and pain, no matter who the victim is. If they had a rough life, it could be a criminal, but that destroys that family. And I always tried to give them, no matter who they were, to give them respect. So it did make a difference. Every case was important.,” Hamilton says.

From days of writing reports and suspect descriptions on paper, to having computers in squad cars and cases cracked by DNA evidence, Hamilton sees a bright future for the department.

“That was the whole thing, just to give people hope, to anyone. You don’t quit,” Hamilton says.

While he hasn’t slept in yet, Hamilton says he’s looking forward to taking time to read some books and enjoy all the options retirement provides.

Hamilton says he remembers every homicide he’s worked.

He credits advances in DNA technology and good detective work for the breaks in the April Tinsley murder and 2012 cold case homicide of an antiques dealer in his shop on Broadway.

Corinne Rose

Corinne Rose is a reporter for WPTA.

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