KENDALLVILLE — Kendallville has had a recent run of some big crime headlines in recent months, but the city’s police chief is stepping up to defend the community as a safe place to live and work.
At Tuesday’s Kendallville City Council meeting, Police Chief Rob Wiley took the podium briefly to offer a response to some recent postings he’s seen questioning whether Kendallville is a safe place — whether it’s safe to walk the streets.
“That’s certainly not an accurate reflection of what occurs in the city and the safety of the citizens,” Wiley said.
The reaction from residents and people in the area is due to a recent string of some significant but ultimately rare incidents in Kendallville. Three people have been shot in Kendallville within a year, two of whom died, and two local restaurants were robbed at gunpoint on back-to-back nights in July.
“Since November of last year, we had three shootings,” Wiley recapped for council members. “One of those was a criminal act, intentional, and two of those were accidental shootings.”
The intentional shooting referenced by Wiley occurred in February. Police allege Kyle Gibson, 27, shot another man in the neck after demanding money he was owed in a garage at a North Main Street home.
The two accidental shootings both occurred when handguns discharged, with a bullet striking a man in the abdomen in each case.
In November, Justin Rodman, 18, died in a Sargent Street house after being hit in the abdomen by a bullet. Logan Dewitt, 21, was sentenced on a Level 6 felony charge of criminal recklessness on July 19.
In early July, a similar incident happened at a home on Aspen Cove, when a gun discharged and hit Jerremmy Hall, 20, in the stomach. He died in a Fort Wayne hospital about two weeks after the incident. No charges were filed in relation to that case.
Outside of the one confrontation on Main Street, Wiley said the two accidental shootings say less about citywide safety and more about the need to handle firearms responsibly.
“Those types of things, in all honesty, are not reflections on the city and its safety. It may be better evidence of mandatory training for owning a handgun,” Wiley said.
As for the armed robberies, Kendallville’s Subway was robbed at gunpoint by two masked men on July 8, and Kendallville’s Little Caesars was robbed at gunpoint by two masked men the following night on July 9.
Armed robberies are exceptionally rare, and although the incidents put employees at danger, Kendallville’s police did what other departments around the region hadn’t been able to do — arrest the suspects.
Jordan M. Street, 20, Quandeja D. Whitt, 20, and Antonio D. Wilson, 21, all of Fort Wayne, were caught on July 9 and later charged with felonies in connection with both robberies. Those three suspects have also been linked to other armed robberies around northeast Indiana.
“Those individuals are responsible for probably 15-20 armed robberies in several counties and all I can say is they came to Kendallville and our guys caught ’em,” Wiley said.
The chief also provided some other crime statistics since the beginning of the year.
Kendallville has had 17 batteries, one per 588 citizens — none of which were random acts of violence but all stemming from arguments or fights. The city has had 10 domestic batteries, one per about 1,000 residents, and only four disorderly conduct cases.
So while the city has had a string of big headlines lately, those incidents are still exceptionally rare and day-to-day crime remains low.
“I understand people have strong reactions to things that occur that cause loss of life,” Wiley said. “Those are not a reflection of the city itself and the safety of its citizens.”
Although users on Facebook and Twitter may be critical, Kendallville City Council was strongly supportive of the chief and the police department.
“I’m safe to walk in Kendallville,” Council President Jim Dazey said. “There are an awful lot of people walking. I watch people riding bicycles and walking the streets and I think it’s safe. We appreciate what you and your department do. I support you 100%”
Councilman Regan Ford said the department deserves recognition, especially after the great work officers did to catch the alleged armed robbers.
“I commend the department, you have a great group of guys and gals,” Ford said.
Wiley said he appreciated the support. Although the news stories that spread widest on social media are the ones about the big incidents, they’re not representative of the average day in Kendallville.
“I know people look at social media a lot of times and they believe whatever they see on it,” Wiley said. “I don’t want them to believe there’s a danger walking in Kendallville.”