Hammond, IN – 8 December 2017 – Cameras mounted at 33 points around Hammond to read license plates are doing much more than finding traffic violators — they’re snaring real suspects, police officials say.
“We have 211 officers, but now it’s almost like we have a couple of thousand officers, and they’re sitting on poles, and they’re saying, ‘Hey, check that one out,'” department spokesman Lt. Steve Kellogg said with a chuckle.
The cameras are permanently mounted at entry and exit points around the city and are assisted by two mobile units on police cars.
“I am pleased with what ‘Hammond Blue Net,’ our citywide LPR (license plate reader) camera system, and our police department has accomplished so far,” Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. said in a statement. “I want criminals to know that we mean business in Hammond and to think twice before committing a crime here.”
Hammond is one of a handful of police departments in Northwest Indiana making use of the system. Others are Highland, Griffith and Munster.
Kellogg said, “a lot of us thought at least upfront,” the cameras would primarily be used for checking expired plates or suspended licenses. “And then they started to see the things they could do with investigations,” he said.
The system helps officers zero in on information faster by looking at footage from a certain time frame and area of a crime to narrow down a suspect, he said.
“Now it’s all at our fingertips. It’s very, very easy,” Kellogg said.
The cameras helped lead to the arrest of David Travell Washington, 34, in a couple of home invasions, he said.
Washington broke into a couple’s home in the 6700 block of Indi-Illi Parkway the night of Oct. 11, getting away with wallets, phones, a purse and a gold cross necklace he ripped off a victim’s neck, according to a probable cause affidavit.
After going through drawers and a jewelry box, court records state, the suspect said, “Don’t move or I will kill you.”
Washington is also accused of a strong-arm robbery of an elderly couple on Oct. 5 in the 6600 block of State Line Avenue. Police went through footage from license plate cameras and were able to link Washington to the case, according to the affidavit.
Washington was charged in Lake Superior Court with two counts of burglary and one count each of robbery resulting in bodily injury and carrying a handgun without a license, court records show.
“Without the LPR system, they might have got there eventually, but it would’ve been much more difficult,” Kellogg said.
More recently, the system helped catch Kristin Escamilla, 36, who an affidavit alleges robbed a White Castle restaurant Nov. 21 in the 7900 block of Indianapolis Blvd. of about $200 by displaying a plastic toy handgun.
The silver Chrysler Sebring that Escamilla was seen driving had no license plate, but within an hour of the robbery, the vehicle was located through the LPR system, leading to her arrest, police said.
Escamilla was charged in Lake Superior Court with robbery, court records show.
Hammond police Chief John Doughty said in a statement that this was another example of how “investigation skills of our detectives combine perfectly with innovative technology. The result is success,” Doughty said.
While faster, “We still have to follow the rules,” Kellogg said, making sure there’s probable cause for a stop. “It doesn’t go around the Fourth Amendment of search and seizure. It just helps us. It’s an extra set of eyes that says look this way so we can narrow it down.”
Cmdr. John Banasiak, spokesman for Highland police, said his department’s system primarily helps with suspended drivers, but it also aided in recovery of a stolen vehicle.
On Nov. 16, officers followed a car after being notified it had been stolen, Banasiak said. Those inside bailed out in a subdivision, but counterfeit currency was discovered, he said.
“Unfortunately, we did not catch the people, but we did get the car back,” Banasiak said.
Cmdr. Keith Martin, spokesman for Griffith police, and Lt. Ed Strbjak, spokesman for Munster police, said their cameras also have helped police in investigations.
In Hammond, “Plates are run constantly” with the cameras, Kellogg said, as officers drive around town.
“It’s just phenomenal what’s done,” he said.
Source: Chicago Tribune