The Atlantic City Police Department’s antiquated technology is on the way out, as city leaders say a new crime-fighting system could be in place within the year.
A recent trip to East Orange, orchestrated by City Councilman Marty Small gave a group including the mayor and representatives from the Atlantic City Housing Authority, the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority and local clergy a preview of the city’s plan.
The Essex County city of 70,000 saw violent crime drop by about 70 percent in the first five years it began using a system that marries technology such as cameras, global positioning and crime tracking. Since 2004, crime there has dropped each year, numbers given at that meeting show.
Atlantic City already is moving toward a similar system, to help police be more proactive in combating violence.
“This really gave them a bird’s-eye view,” Atlantic City police Capt. Bill Mazur said of the trip to East Orange. “It can be hard to envision. To see it, it’s a very impressive model, and it works.”
Now, leaders are hoping it will work here.
“It is my main goal that we have this up and running this year,” Small said.
In September 2011, Atlantic City received a $3.5 million CRDA grant for such upgrades but so far has used just $17,500 of it for a tip411 system that allows people to text police tips and chat while remaining anonymous.
Last year, a plan was put in place that would have the city hire a project manager to help lead what will be a complete rebuild of technology from the bottom up, beginning with the records management system and computer-aided dispatch.
“You need to build off of a solid foundation,” Tourism District Commander Tom Gilbert said of those plans.
Helping with that is an agreement recently signed with the IJIS Institute, a nonprofit group of information technology companies that matches up public agencies such as the city with the private sector to assist with information and technology sharing. Originally called the Integrated Justice Information Systems Institute, it now officially goes by its initials.
“They kind of give you the road map,” said Mazur, who has been managing the project on behalf of the Public Safety Director’s Office. “They’re the technical experts.”
The agreement costs nothing, and IJIS also will help with acquiring grants, Mazur said.
IJIS representatives visited Atlantic City for three days in December to assess the city’s system. A report is expected by next month that will include what they observed and what they feel is lacking, Mazur said.
After that, the move to hire a project manager will be made, setting things into motion.
“Everything is on a very ambitious timeline,” Mazur said. “You’re not talking about years, you’re talking about months and it will be up and running.”
“We applaud the leadership for taking the time and really doing the research and exploring the options that are out there,” CRDA spokeswoman Kim Butler said.
Chris Filiciello, a research and development assistant with the CRDA, represented that agency on the trip.
“Chris came back and gave us a really thorough report of his observations and impressions, which only shows that it was really worthwhile for him to participate,” Butler said. “I think it’s always good when you have that opportunity to be in on the process and become that much more educated.”
Small said he will make sure the education continues. He plans to have the Cordero Group, the company that provides East Orange’s system, give a presentation to casino executives and other stakeholders in the city.
“We will send a serious message to the residents and criminals that we mean business and the game is about to change in Atlantic City,” Small said.
At one time, there were 25 murders a year in East Orange. Last year, the city had five — three of them related to domestic incidents.
“Five murders,” Small repeated several times during a presentation by retired 30-year police veteran Jose Cordero, who started the Cordero Group.
Last year, Atlantic City had 18 homicides and a fatal police-involved shooting. That shooting, which is under investigation by the Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office, could have been aided by video. There are cameras in the area of Stanley Holmes Village, where the shooting occurred, but the Housing Authority had not fixed them.
“It’s unacceptable that they weren’t up,” Small said. “But at the same time, we have to move forward, and this is correcting a lot of wrongs in a lot of places with this system.”
A recent Community Safety Survey of 590 public housing residents from Atlantic City and Pleasantville found 225 — or 38 percent — feel unsafe, while only 9 percent feel “very safe.”
Nearly two-thirds of those who offered suggestions brought up a higher police presence. The cameras were brought up 22 times.
Gilbert — who formerly was a lieutenant commander with the State Police — said the lack of technology in Atlantic City doesn’t mean there is nothing currently helping the city in that area.
“It doesn’t mean there’s an absence of crime-mapping and crime analytics going on,” he said. “We’re not flying blind at all with Atlantic City. We’re trying to bring that support down to a more local level.”
And, one that can be shared.
Right now, Atlantic City’s outdated equipment is not compatible with the systems used on county, state and federal levels.
Leaders are hoping that, soon, that will not be the case.
“When something happens, you constantly hear, ‘What are you all going to do?’” Small said. “Well, this is what we’re doing to improve the situation.”
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