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HAMMOND — The city has set a new record by reaching the Fourth of July holiday without one homicide.

“That’s our new date, so we’re resetting the clock now,” Hammond Police Chief John Doughty told The Times on Tuesday.  

Up until this year, the city’s longest homicide-free streak was Jan. 1 through June 8. That record was set 38 years ago — in 1981.

Ending this year’s streak was an apparent “road rage” shooting on the night of July 4 that left a young Hammond father dead and an 18-year-old wounded.

Gunfire erupted that night in the 400 block of 165th Street, blocks away from the state line. According to witnesses, the occupants of two cars were arguing when the driver of a white vehicle opened fire at a maroon vehicle. The bullets fatally struck Jorge Roman, of East Chicago, and wounded another 18-year-old.

Not long after that, Hammond detectives arrived on scene to open an investigation into the city’s first homicide of 2019.

A coroner’s van followed, pronouncing Roman, of East Chicago, dead at the scene. 

Doughty on Tuesday said detectives plan to present the case soon to the Lake County prosecutor’s office for review and potential charges.

“This case is not as clear-cut as it seems and the prosecutor’s office will decide if charges will be filed,” Doughty told The Times.

Doughty and Mayor Thomas McDermott said they believe the fact the city was homicide-free from Jan. 1 through the Fourth of July holiday speaks volumes about the police department’s men and women and the city administration’s dedication to improving quality of life for Hammond residents.

Doughty said he only can hold his department accountable if he holds himself accountable and to the same standards. For example, he said he helped patrol the city's streets on the Fourth of July rather than taking the holiday off, he said. 

"Morale is part of crime-fighting. They work hard, and with no fear, because they know the chief and the mayor have their backs," Doughty said. 

Crime is down

McDermott said the city’s crime has been trending down over the past decade, whereas some neighboring cities’ crime rates are holding steady or on the rise.

Gary, for example, is experiencing an uptick in homicides in the first half of 2019, fueled by drugs, according to its detective bureau.

Hammond had five homicides in 2018, compared to 13 in 2008. There were 122 robberies in 2018, compared to 232 in 2008. Aggravated assaults also are down — to 181 in 2018 from 389 in 2008.

"We just don't have open gang warfare like we used to. That's just not happening anymore," Doughty said. 

Nonviolent crime — such as burglary, larceny, vehicle theft and arson — are down considerably from 2008 to 2018.

More rape cases were reported to the department in 2018 than in 2017, a statistic that can be contributed to a change in the way such cases are categorized or the national #MeToo movement that sparked a surge in awareness about sexual harassment and, in turn, more women coming forward with allegations.

'They don't stop'

Hammond remains Northwest Indiana’s largest city, nestling the state border and Chicago.

Easy access to major highways does wonders for the city when attracting new business and investors — but that easy access also attracts out-of-state criminals hopping the border.

Doughty said suspects in your typical smash-and-grab burglaries from Illinois don’t stop at the state line.

“And these guys, they don’t stop until they’re caught,” Doughty said. “So they go to Munster and Highland and Hammond, and they repeat, repeat, repeat until they go to jail.”

He said the department filed about 20 felony robbery cases this year with the local prosecutor's office, half of which involved suspects who traveled into Hammond from outside the city’s limits to commit a crime.

Forging bonds between officers and the neighborhoods on their beat also helps fight crime. "Ring" brand doorbells recently were donated to Hammond residents as part of a community neighborhood watch campaign, and more young, local residents are joining the department, too, thanks to the creation of an Academy Bound program that sponsors academy training for youths in the city.

Doughty said they recently hired six officers, three of whom are Hispanic, one is female, and two are white males, in an effort to continuously diversify its force. 

Blue Net technology

City leaders also credit the decrease in crime to its Blue Net license plate reader technology. More than 60 license-plate reading cameras are scattered across the city, and more than two dozen more are planned for installation, city staff said.

McDermott said Hammond historically has been way ahead of the pack in terms of crime-solving technology and equipping officers with body cameras. When the city first started looking into license plate reader technology in 2016, it was suggested to the mayor not to go public with it. 

Too often, people liken the technology to Big Brother surveillance, he said, but attitudes quickly changed when law enforcement starting catching the "bad guys" within an hour of a crime. 

“People don’t like this kind of stuff,” McDermott said. “But we took the opposite approach. We wanted people to hear about it, and we wanted the bad guys to hear about it. … I think it’s part of what you’re seeing right now.”

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Northlake County Reporter

Lauren covers North Lake County government, breaking news, crime and environmental issues for The Times. She previously worked at The Herald-News in Joliet. She holds a master’s degree in Public Affairs Reporting.