INDIANAPOLIS — In the ongoing battle against domestic violence, police are testing a new visual tool that might save lives.
Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department bought six LED cameras called Illumicams that can collect evidence not seen by the naked eye. IMPD is one of a handful of agencies in the nation and the first department in Indiana to order the cameras.
The technology would help officers detect marks and bruises that form below the skin's surface, such as strangulation marks and other bruises in domestic violence cases, said Jennifer Reister, the IMPD domestic violence projects supervisor. The cameras also can detect bodily fluids in sexual assault calls.
"Responding officers will no longer have to wait for bruises and injuries to appear on their own," Reister said, "and victims do not have to worry about following up for pictures in the immediate aftermath of their trauma."
The cameras came out of the Baker One Project, an initiative to curb domestic violence that includes IMPD, the Marion County prosecutor's office, the Julian Center and the Domestic Violence Network. The agencies paid for the cameras through a federal grant out of the Department of Justice's Office of Violence Against Women. Each camera costs roughly $2,600.
Domestic violence calls to hotlines in Central Indiana have increased slightly over the past few years. One hotline, Connect2Help, tracks Marion County calls and saw a slight increase from 2,797 in 2010 to 3,297 in 2012.
But those calls don't necessarily lead to trials and convictions in which suspects are held accountable, Reister said. More often than not, she said, victims are reluctant to participate for fear of retribution or seeing what they consider lenient outcomes from the court.
"One of the most difficult things when responding to and investigating domestic violence calls is corroborating evidence," Reister said. "Often the case may hinge solely on victim testimony, which may present significant safety issues for the victim."
Authorities are hoping that with the camera they can build stronger cases against domestic violence suspects with the evidence they collect and, in the process, prevent the violence from escalating. By detecting the injuries, officers could have more evidence that could lead to more arrests and stronger cases against suspects. For victims, that could mean an opportunity to escape the situation.
One of the common but rarely visible warning signs of escalating domestic violence is strangulation, said Linda Major, who oversees the Baker One Project. The team found that 25 percent of domestic violence reports taken by IMPD involve allegations of strangulation. But 50 percent of those victims won't have any external, visible injuries.
"The research is showing that strangulation is more of an indicator of impending homicide than even use of a weapon is," Major said.
Catherine O'Connor, president and CEO of the Julian Center, said that having the camera could strengthen victim's arguments in domestic violence cases.
"It takes a lot of courage for victims to report and to leave (their abusers)," O'Connor said. "It can be discouraging when a case doesn't turn out the way the victim (wants). ... Everything that we can do to give victims the confidence to come forward and get help, that's a good thing for victims."