With police manpower at a premium in Newark, law enforcement officials are hoping to use a variety of technological approaches to maximize the force’s effectiveness, everything from online crime reporting to video feeds streaming in from privately owned security cameras.
Standing before a wall of video screens in the fittingly high-tech “mission control room” at 5th Precinct headquarters on Clinton Avenue,* Mayor Cory Booker this morning unveiled a number of innovations the department will be using to fight crime as well as increase the accountability of the department’s personnel.
“When I became mayor I said we needed to go from the age of The Flintstones to the age of The Jetsons,” said Booker, adding that the Newark Police Department is becoming “the most technologically advanced police force in the state of New Jersey.”
Booker outlined three major developments today: the installation of dashboard-mounted cameras in squad cars, changes in the department’s Web site that allow residents to report minor crimes online and receive updates from city agenices, as well as a partnership with SecureWatch24, a private security firm.
The Web site upgrades and dash-mounted cameras have been paid for with grants, officials said. SecureWatch24 is offering its service to the NPD free of charge.
Already a staple in many police departments across the country, the dashboard cameras being placed in 50 Newark patrol cars “will create a greater level of transparency and accountabilty for our officers,” Booker said. Samuel DeMaio, the director of the Newark Police Department, added that the cameras will help protect officers unfairly accused of misconduct. The video will also be used for training.
“Now we’ll have the ability to see what the officers did,” DeMaio said.
The department’s Web site, which can be translated into nearly all of the dozens of languages spoken in the city, now allows visitors to contact the commanders in their precincts directly via email. The site also allows users to electronically report minor crimes, such as thefts from cars, criminal mischief and fraud. Officers will then follow up as appropriate, DeMaio said, also emphasizing that police will still respond immediately in emergency situations called in via 9-1-1.
Freeing officers from having to respond in person to all of the thousands of lesser crimes means more police will be available to deal with major incidents, like carjackings and assaults, Booker said.
“In times of diminishing manpower we have to find ways to keep officers on the street,” Booker said.
The NPD site has other features as well. Through a link on the homepage users can sign up for alerts through Nixle, which provides updates during emergencies from city agencies. (Users can also sign up for Nixle alerts by texting their zip code to 888777.) The NPD site will also provide data on crime in specific neighborhoods.
Speaking of city residents, Booker said “data is critical in 21st century America, and the more data they have, the more empowered they are.”
The department also announced that a security firm, New York City-based SecureWatch24, has formed a partnership with the city that will allow police to directly access video from surveillance cameras belonging to the firm’s customers, like the owners of supermarkets or apartment buildings.
The customers must consent first, and an agreement has been signed between the city and SecureWatch24 stipulating that video only be accessed during legitimate police investigations, said Desmond Smyth, the company’s founder and a former NYPD officer. The cameras are only placed in common areas, company officials also said.
Officials said the service has been extremely popular with merchants in New York, where SecureWatch24 also provides the same service to the NYPD, because criminals have begun to realize that police there will have instant access to the video.
The company’s service is so popular, Booker said, that some businesses “are now counterfeiting SW24 signs” as a way to ward off criminals.
Smyth said that the software the company uses allows video to be broken into short clips, so police waste as little time as possible by not having to review long segments in order to find the section showing a crime taking place. He also said his cameras are far more reliable than those he was accustomed to when he was working as a police officer.
Eventually, the company may install equipment so that video can also be viewed in real time, providing police with a set of eyes on the ground even before they physically arrive at a crime scene.
Jay Stuck, the company’s vice president of sales, said the firm also plans to sell special boxes to the owners of surveillance cameras not purchased through SecureWatch that will tie those cameras into the NPD system.
*Correction: The street name was originally misidentified as Clinton Street.