HAMMOND | Hammond police are testing body cameras, and all patrol officers could begin wearing them by summer, Police Chief John Doughty said.
The move would make Hammond the first department in Northwest Indiana to begin using the cameras, which are touted as a way to reduce unfounded complaints and increase police accountability.
The department's administration has been considering the move for a couple of years, but two recent controversies and improvements in the technology have pushed the change toward reality, Doughty said.
"Nationwide, it's going that way, and we feel it's time for Hammond," he said.
The department is looking to purchase 125 to 150 body cameras, he said. Each camera costs about $500, and the department will need associated equipment. The department anticipates spending approximately $80,000, he said.
"We got a new budget this year, and we feel it's time to make that move," he said.
All officers working on regular patrol, extra Henry Unit patrols, traffic and the gang unit will wear the cameras, he said. Much like police cars and Tasers, additional cameras will be available for check out to officers working extra jobs, he said. The most common extra job is security for the School City of Hammond, he said.
"While they are not officially on the clock, we wanted to offer them the same protections as on-duty officers if they so choose," Doughty said.
The latest cameras are small and simple to operate, he said. Officers are testing cameras from four companies during the course of their work days.
"We're looking at one model that works with in-car cameras," Doughty said.
Two recent controversies in which Hammond police were accused of racial profiling and excessive force also have contributed to a change in the officers' mindset on the issue, he said.
Jamal Jones and Lisa Mahone, who are black, alleged in a federal lawsuit last fall that officers Patrick Vicari and Charles Turner, who are white, used excessive force during a Sept. 24 traffic stop. Police smashed a passenger-side window, used a Taser on Jones and pulled him from the car. The case garnered national media attention.
Police said they used force after Mahone tried to drive away and Jones refused repeated demands to exit the car and reached into the back seat.
The department also has been accused of racial profiling and excessive force in conjunction with the enforcement of jaywalking laws.
Doughty wrote in a letter in December that police had arrested only one person while writing such citations and that no other abuse complaints had been filed.
A white officer, who has not been identified, had written citations for two white students when he saw two black, female students jaywalking in the city's Hessville section, he said. The officer ordered the girls to stop, but one of them walked away.
When the officer tried to stop the 17-year-old girl by standing in front of her, she punched him in the face, Doughty said. The officer was treated for an injury, and the girl was arrested.
Doughty said he's talked with the officers involved in the two cases about body cameras.
"They believe that if they would have had a body camera on, the public would have judged them differently if we would have been able to release the entire video," he said.
Overall, Hammond police receive few complaints about officers given the department's workload and almost all complaints are proven false, Doughty said.
"Every complaint we do receive is taken seriously and investigated thoroughly by our Internal Affairs Office," Doughty wrote in a letter released Monday.
The Chicago Police Department and Lynwood Police Department also are among a growing number of agencies nationwide that are turning to body cameras in the wake of riots over the death of Micheal Brown, a black 18-year-old who was shot by a white police officer in Ferguson, Mo.
Doughty plans to change the department's hiring process to increase diversity, he said. He will attend a class this month focused on that topic, he said.
Doughty also is working to connect with the community by using social media and encouraging officers to spend more time talking with residents.
The chief's Twitter account is @johndoughty300. The department's official Facebook link is https://www.facebook.com/pages/Hammond-Indiana-Police-Department/294966550705166.