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Sunday, October 30, 1994 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Gary, Ind., Police Post Danger Sign At City's Edge

Knight-Ridder Newspapers

GARY, Ind. - When Gary police officers decided to go public with their frustrations about low pay and hazardous duty, they put the message where it couldn't be overlooked.

The police union rented a billboard at a key entry to the city for its message, which is anything but subtle. In bright red letters, the sign on Broadway reads:

CAUTION!!!

You are currently in Gary, Ind.

1993 MURDER capital of the nation.

Where officers are EXTREMELY underpaid and overworked.

"It was an attempt - obviously it worked - to get the public's attention," said Gerald Clayton, president of Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 61. He said officers are frustrated that they won't receive a pay raise this year, even though they're among the lowest paid in Lake County.

The billboard went up this month and immediately got people's attention. Motorists often slowed or pulled over to read.

People are debating whether it is an unnecessary kick to a city struggling to improve its badly tarnished image or a simple statement of fact.

"It's a disgrace, but it's true," said Robert Woods, 45. "Some people are going to say it's a racist statement, but it's the truth. They should put them up all over."

Others said the sign only hurts the city. "It's a slap in the face to me as a taxpayer of Gary," said John Edger. "We're trying to change the image of this city."

The billboard drew an equally bitter response from local elected officials, who agreed that Gary police are underpaid but said the sign is out of line.

"I think the billboard is a mistake," said Gary Common Council President Roy Pratt. "We don't have to advertise our shortcomings."

Mayor Thomas Barnes said he heard about the billboard while he was at a national mayors summit in Columbus, Ohio.

"This is just gross stupidity," he said.

Lake County Commissioner Rudy Clay and Lake County Councilman Morris Carter, both Gary Democrats, stopped by to see the billboard for themselves.

"We get enough Gary bashing from outside the community," Clay said. "We don't need any from inside with billboards."

Clayton said the sign merely states the facts.

"You can tell people the truth or lie to them," he said. "We as police officers have to deal with the truth and let the chips fall where they may.

"We hope people get upset and say, `Hey, we got to do something about this.' If it makes them do something it's been worth it."

Copyright (c) 1994 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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