At first glance, the room resembles something from a video game tournament. This is the North Bergen Police Department’s Command Call Center. Multiple high-definition screens line the wall, delivering live feeds from a network of about 100 closed-circuit TV cameras that blanket the city.
The zoom on the existing cameras, according to a local official, is so accurate that it can capture the digits that people on camera punch into their smart phones.
Located behind a door that officers must enter using their fingerprint, the center is a critical crime-fighting tool. In some instances, its cameras go beyond crime. They proved useful during the recent fire at Kennedy Furniture on 13th Street and JFK Boulevard, allowing the police to monitor the ongoing situation.
“We turned the cameras to 11th Street and Patterson Plank Road,” said Alan Cody, a surveillance monitor. “And turned them northeast and saw the size and the amount of smoke coming out the building already, and we were able to determine that it was more than a regular first-alarm fire.”
Cody quickly notified the 911 dispatcher to tell the North Hudson Regional Dispatcher to “tell them to step it up, expedite the equipment, and make it a second-alarm. It was very beneficial to know that right away.”
Reaching their limits
As useful as they’ve proven themselves since installed in 2009, the current cameras have their limitations. They’re prone to crashing due to their age, they aren’t as good as modern cameras in low-light situations. And they’re not as helpful as newer models that can alert police about groups of people loitering in a crime-ridden area, and other suspicious situations.
So the township recently announced plans to replace them with new high-resolution versions with analytic systems.
“The camera system, when it was originally installed, the idea was obviously to utilize technology to its most beneficial point to make it efficient and effective,” said Robert Dowd, North Bergen’s police chief and one of the main driving forces behind the initiative. “But just like all technology, it ages out. Much like your computer at home or your cell phone, every couple of years, we know, as consumers we have to replace them.”
After Dowd showed Township Administrator Chris Pianese the difference between an old camera and a newer one, Pianese agreed that upgrades were needed.
One incident that helped motivate Dowd to push for the new system happened in 2012. A hit-and-run incident at Tonnelle Avenue and 51st Street claimed the life of Omar Monroig, a local citizen. Despite widespread publicity featuring sketches of the driver and descriptions of the car, Monroig’s death by auto has yet to be solved.
“We went full-barrel on this case,” Dowd said. “I deployed resources I’d never deployed before. Although his death was caught on camera, because of the time of night, it was a little after midnight, it was very dark on that particular stretch of Tonnelle. We were able to see the figure be struck by the auto and we were able to determine the make of the auto, but not the license plate number. Not enough to catch the person.”
Dowd said, “It’s a thing that these cameras work better in low-light. The technology is just better. This newest strand of technology, the images are much better.”
Commenting on the cameras in a statement, Mayor Nicholas Sacco praised the township’s Police Department for “always striving to expand its efficiency and enhance the safety of our residents. I want to commend Chief Dowd for continuing to lead our department to the forefront of crime prevention not only in New Jersey, but in the nation.”
The township was able to afford the new cameras at a discount. They began talks with a vendor, SHI International Corporation.
“We proposed a program by utilizing the credits from the old cameras, which we got from this vendor, and they established a credit for each camera,” Pianese said.
Keeping the credits in mind, the men began discussing with SHI how to change all 100 cameras simultaneously. Eventually, they struck a financial compromise.
The township devised a program where the vendor will not only provide new cameras, but perform maintenance, at a cost of $180,000 for the next four years from the town budget.
Hannington Dia can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org