Detecting muggings from the sky
Total of 75 police cameras around town by 2011
by Tricia Tirella
Reporter staff writer
Aug 22, 2010 | 3309 views | 0 0 comments | 10 10 recommendations | email to a friend | print
FUTURE SURVEILLANCE CENTER – Early this month, officials toured the center before Night Out Against Crime.
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While 24 cameras are already attached to traffic signal poles and building rooftops throughout North Bergen, the town’s Police Department hopes to have a total of 75 streaming live video to their new camera command center by the end of the year.

The cameras as so sophisticated, officials say, that they can be used to read a pack of cigarettes on the sidewalk. They will also eventually be able to detect sudden movements among pedestrians that might signal a robbery.

Capt. Robert Dowd, the commanding officer of the center, said there is still much to be done in crafting the program. Employees need to be hired, cameras need to be fine-tuned, and the department’s communication center must move into a building on Tonnelle Avenue that used to be the home to the North Bergen Police Athletic League (PAL). The building will now be called the North Bergen Operation Center. It is located near the 61st Street police substation.
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“We wish we could go to the video tape on every single job.” – Robert Dowd
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Police have worked on getting the cameras, each valued at about $6,500, for many years.

They hope to add another 25 to the 75 some time in the next year.

Got state funding

According to Chief William Galvin, he first visited the Jersey City CC-TV center seven years ago while he was still a captain. He admired the project, but didn’t have the funds.

A few years ago they learned that the township could apply for a state Urban Enterprise Zone grant to fund the project. (The UEZ is a state-designated business district in which businesses collect 3.5 percent sales tax that goes back to public safety and cosmetic improvements.)

In fall 2009, the town was awarded $2.5 million in UEZ funding for the camera project, which included refurbishing the center, equipment costs, and paying three officers’ salaries for the first year of their employment.

“We wish we could go to the video tape on every single job,” said Dowd. “If you study criminal justice, eye-witness testimony is the least reliable.”

Can read cigarettes from the sky

Dowd said the department ultimately settled on wireless cameras not only because it cut costs, but because the vendor, Packetalk, LLC, had cameras of “outrageous” quality.

Lt. Peter Fasilis said before choosing the vendor, they visited the East Orange Police Headquarters to view their cameras. Not only could they clearly zoom five blocks away at night, but the cameras’ resolution enabled them to read a cigarette package’s label on the ground.

The cameras are logic-based, and according to Dowd, they will eventually analytically learn how to identify possible and actual motor vehicle and pedestrian accidents and notify the personnel watching the cameras. He said they can even judge how fast the distance between two people changes combined with actual confrontations, to predict muggings.

According to Fasilis, the cameras, which have a lifetime warranty, are able to keep rolling after being shot with a 9 mm bullet.

In the future, they could be programmed to notify nearby officers directly and have the capabilities of license and face recognition.

Running the system

While Packetalk will maintain and help install all of the cameras, the Police Department plans to hire nine hourly wage employees to watch the cameras in three-person shifts throughout the day.

They hope to have at least one retired police officer on each shift, along with former public safety employees and civilians.

Patrol squad supervisors will work from the same building as the camera system when they move to their new location. These supervisors will be able to view the cameras within an earshot of radio dispatchers, said Dowd.

Don’t fear Big Brother

Fasilis, Lt. Bruce Sonvico, and Police Officer Jason Torres have helped instated the cameras with Dowd. Fasilis said that one of the challenges was finding good wireless antenna and camera locations, given with the township’s many hills and topography.

Dowd said that they tried to “cover” the entire North Bergen corridor of Tonnelle Avenue from 91st to Fifth street and are planning on installing more cameras there.

They also planning to span Kennedy Boulevard, on which cameras are already installed at several intersections, including by North Bergen High School

While there are only three on Bergenline Avenue so far, there could be as many as 10 in two weeks. Around 24 cameras will cover uptown on Broadway Avenue.

Dowd said that the cameras will only focus on public places and that cameras have privacy safeguards, like blacking out windows on buildings past the first floor.

He said law-abiding citizens have nothing to fear.

“In today’s day and age, you’re on video about 70 percent of your day…people are either accustomed to it, used to it, or expect it,” said Dowd.

Capt. Gerald Sanzari said that the cameras have already assisted in foiling an alleged home burglary scam.

“It will help our Detective Bureau solve more crimes because naturally, we have it on camera,” said Galvin.

Tricia Tirella may be reached at TriciaT@hudsonreporter.com.

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