Elkhart Police looking into possibility of vest cameras

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Elkhart, Ind. Police officers in Elkhart could soon be wearing vest cameras to monitor what they encounter while on the job. Mayor Dick Moore said he is interested in bringing the technology to the city with a heart and will ask for city council approval to get the necessary funds.

The topic came up at a Friday morning press conference Moore scheduled in response to increased tensions between residents and police after a July incident.

On July 3, a Chicago man beat up an Elkhart cop, breaking his eye socket in the 100 block of Garfield Avenue. Witnesses said that while the man went too far, police have a reputation for treating people in that area with hostility.

Court documents say the man, 21-year-old Reese Haithcox, pushed the officer to the ground and repeatedly punched him in the face. Police reportedly tased Haithcox twice and arrested him on the spot. But neighbors said they used more force than what was indicated in the report; and they say their street has been the target of excessive citations and police presence.

“We feel like we are being harassed,” said Ann Smart, who lives across the street from where the July incident happened.

“They are trying to intimidate people,” said John Church, another Garfield Avenue resident. “Then, they go and tell me they are trying to protect me.”

Last week an Elkhart community roundtable sent a list of suggestions to Mayor Dick Moore, detailing how to begin mending the relationship between officers and the community.

Moore said he is open to the idea of officers getting additional racial sensitivity training. He is also looking into community policing, which means officers live in the areas they patrol.

There was also discussion of getting vest cameras for officers.
“I believe in the cameras,” Moore said. “I think it is good for the officers, it is good for people.”

Taser International, a company that sells vest cameras, tells Newscenter 16 that the cameras retail for about $400 each. There are 112 officers on the Elkhart force, which means the total cost would be around $44,000 for the city.

“We have the money to do it,” Moore said. “We have to get council approval. But, we know where the money is at.”

There are already 12 law enforcement agencies in Indiana using the cameras from Taser International. Moore said they city of Elkhart will look into what cameras other communities are using, research a brand that works well and then try to move forward.

Other city leaders said rebuilding trust between residents and police will also require long-term efforts.

“We need to ensure that we have continued dialogue in order to build these relationships,” said Rod Roberson, (D) at-large council member.

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