Wayne James: An advocate of IU Northwest, Gary community
May 11, 2016
This summer, when Gary kids chase down the "ICE CREAM MAN!" and approach the truck in anticipation of a cool treat, they might be surprised to see a uniformed police officer manning the freezer.
Newly appointed chief of the IU Police Department-Northwest, Wayne James, along with some of his fellow officers, will be handing out ice cream this summer as another way of increasing their rapport with the community surrounding IU Northwest.
Anyone who knows James, a Gary, Ind., native, knows how he feels about engaging with folks in the community. It's a critical part of police work, he says, because it helps break down the barrier of fear and encourages information-sharing between officers and the public.
When IUPD-Northwest plans events and initiatives like Coffee with a Cop; the Park, Walk and Talk program; Shop with a Cop; Citizens Police Academy, and visits to area schools, James is always there, front and center, getting to know folks in and around IU Northwest.
Staying on track
The notion of paying attention to people didn't come out of nowhere. Having caring people in his life who guided him, James says, is what ultimately led him away from trouble and toward a successful career in law enforcement.
"I had people mentor me and they paid constant attention to me," James said. "If you don't have that support consistently, you will fall victim and become a statistic."
James is a product of the Gary school system, and he later received his high school equivalency diploma.
Staying out of trouble was a constant struggle, James says. As he puts it, "trouble is easy to find and hard to get out of." Many of the people he called friends were either headed for prison or an early grave. And many others were victims of the crime around them, including his own brother, confined to a wheelchair since the age of 15 after being shot.
The difference, he says, the reason he avoided the trouble that was all around him, was that his positive influences crowded out the negative ones.
James' mother, for instance, a single mother of five sons and one daughter, often toted him over to the police department to visit with the chiefs and the commanders. His grandfather, a southern-born pastor who was one of the first African Americans to settle in Glen Park, moved to Gary to preach at a local church. Julius James had attended Morehouse College in Atlanta with Martin Luther King, Jr. and remained close to his family. The elder James became a respected leader in the Gary community and introduced his young grandson, Wayne, to people who became his mentors.
Once, James reached out to an acquaintance of his grandparents -- a Gary police detective who attended their church. "I wrote him a letter and said I really needed some help," James said. "I wasn't in trouble or anything, but I had come to terms with the idea that I really wanted to change. There were people in the police department who saw value in me."
When he was 18, James joined the Lake County Sheriff's Explorer Program, an opportunity to learn more about a career in law enforcement, while he also worked as a valet at the casino. Soon after, he enrolled at the Indiana Law Enforcement Academy in Plainfield, Ind.
James was the first African-American officer to be hired at the New Chicago Police Department. He worked primarily on drug investigations for the majority of his 13-year career, in which he has served in many roles, including patrol officer, detective, corporal, patrol sergeant, detective sergeant, operations lieutenant and Special Weapons and Tactics officer.
Just last year, James earned his bachelor's degree in public safety management -- boasting a 3.9 GPA -- from Calumet College of St. Joseph. He also graduated from the prestigious Northwestern University School of Police Staff and Command.
A born protector
Becoming a police officer wasn't exactly a favored career in his family's opinion.
"I caught a lot of flak for becoming a cop," James said. "My siblings and a few people in my family just don't like cops, just because of some of the things they experienced from growing up in an urban environment."
But James saw things differently. He is a born protector. Just ask his mom.
"I always wanted to protect my mom. I think that is where being a police officer came from," James said. "When she would go to bed, I would set up a pallet next to her bed and sleep next to it. I thought I was protecting her. I was only 11, but I would have been there fighting with her."
Before being named chief, James had served the campus as the executive lieutenant, in which he was responsible for patrol operations, dispatch, detective bureau, Special Weapons and Tactics and serves on the crisis management and behavioral consultation teams.
James is also a certified Indiana law enforcement instructor specializing in gangs, building entries and general instruction. He is a 2011 graduate of the Police Executive Leadership Academy, Northwestern University Staff and Command. He is the current president of the Northwest Indiana Chapter of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives.
Throughout his career, James has received several awards, commendations and recognitions for excellence. In July of 2012, he received a Medal of Valor as well as a commendation award for a SWAT call. He has received numerous other awards for officer of the year and drug investigations during his previous roles before coming to the police department at Northwest.
Now, James, who is raising a preteen daughter on his own, wants to do for others the favors he received as a kid.
This means that in the midst of his duties as police chief, he is sure to make time for youth and future officers and just citizens who want to communicate their concerns.
"You can be a part of a community, without having grown up in a community. That is one of things we preach."