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Gas City crime rates fluctuate

STAYING BUSY:Gas City Judge Steven Barker works on his computer at the Gas City Court.

By Clay Winowiecki - cwinowiecki@chronicle-tribune.com

GAS CITY -- Major crimes saw a decrease in 2018, while minor crimes saw an uptick, according to City Police Chief Tim Eckstein.

Crimes such as domestic battery and burglary have decreased, while crimes such as minor theft have slightly increased. Eckstein is still working on finalizing all the crime numbers of the 2018 year for an annual report.

"Most of our minor offenses are seeing an increase because of the opioid issues (in the community)," Eckstein said. "(The issue) has always been there, but has come more through the media limelight now."

Some of the issue can be attributed to pain clinics being shut down several years ago, Eckstein added. Being unable to receive prescription medications for pain has forced many to resort to illegal methods to self-medicate.

"The department of corrections is not the best avenue to try to resolve that situation," he said. "We need to hold them accountable, but don't get them treatment for that process. (We're just) setting them up to be repeat offenders."

Eckstein contributes part of the decrease in major crimes to serious offenders being previously incarcerated.

"Once they’re incarcerated, those numbers will drop as some of those more serious offenders are going through the trial procedures and convicted and sent away," he said.

Even though the amount of crime has fluctuated in the small city, Gas City Court is staying busy, according to Judge Steven Barker.

The court processes all of Grant County's traffic tickets and sees around 3,500 traffic tickets pass through each year.

The court also handles around 600 criminal procedures each year as well.

The court services around 13 agencies, including the Indiana State Police, Grant County Sheriff's Department, police stations from Swayzee to Van Buren and every now and then conservation officers and university police.

Gas City Court is in a unique position because there are only four people in the world who can be the court's judge: Barker and three Gas City attorneys.

Should Barker retire from the judgeship, as he recently did as a department chair at Ivy Tech, and the three attorneys refuse to run, the court would no longer operate.

If this were to happen, it would put much more stress on Marion City Court and other nearby courts, according to Barker.

This luckily should not happen anytime in the near future as Barker put in the paperwork for reelection earlier this week.

"I love the challenge of it," Barker said. "You see so many diverse things when you do it. I want to still contribute to society."