Operators of the Stanley Holmes Village housing complex have yet to install state-of the art cameras intended to be up-and-running eight months ago at the property and others in Atlantic City.
The $500,000 project’s stagnation became apparent after a fatal police shooting near Stanley Holmes on Monday afternoon. The incident claimed the life of 18-year-old Derreck Mack and exacerbated longstanding mistrust between some city residents and law enforcement.
That relationship won’t be healed by a video clip. But surveillance footage could help prevent simmering tensions from boiling over by settling conflicting accounts of Mack’s actions just before a 14-year department veteran fired at him.
No one disputed that police had been chasing Mack and shouting at him to drop a weapon. Some bystanders, however, immediately claimed that police shot Mack in the back while he was surrendering. Others stated they saw Mack reaching into his waistband for a weapon before the officer fired.
That included the officer himself, who said he “feared for his life” during a voluntary statement he provided to the Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office.
As is protocol in police shootings, the prosecutor is handling the investigation and has secured weapons issued to the officer, who has been placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of the investigation.
Housing Authority Director of Operations Tom Hannon said only $100,000 had been spent so far on the camera project. Most of the money was paid to improve lighting at Stanley Holmes and for routine camera repairs and replacements at other authority-run properties, Hannon said.
Late Monday, longtime Housing Authority Commissioner Joel Pierre Clarke and Atlantic City Councilmen Marty Small and Steve Moore said they were under the impression that the new cameras had already been installed.
“I didn’t know that. I was under the impression there were cameras that would be advantageous to the investigation,” Moore said.
Stanley Holmes’ existing surveillance system is slated for $15,000 in repairs to address damages from Hurricane Sandy. It’s unclear why the authority did not fix the equipment during the nearly two months since the storm. Hannon said affected cameras included those near the scene of Monday’s shooting.
Hannon declined further comment on how, if at all, those damages compromised their ability to capture Monday’s incident.
The Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office also won’t discuss the footage. It remains unclear what, if anything, of relevance was recorded.
“ACPD (and the Prosecutor’s Office) was in our operations center immediately and did their own investigation,” Housing Authority Executive Director Pam James said. “Normally what they do … is review the (feed) to see what occurred and then ask us to burn a DVD.”
Three days after the shooting, that had not happened, James and Hannon said.
Even if fully operational, those cameras would not necessarily have caught anything of relevance because most of them are focused on interior courtyards. They pan, tilt and zoom, however, so there’s a chance they could have been pointed in the right direction at the right time, Hannon said.
Overall, the camera coverage at Stanley Holmes and other authority sites is “inadequate” and concerning to residents, Hannon has said.
The forthcoming system will fix that. But the authority has not publicly awarded a contract for the job or advertised it, as often required of government agencies. That is because the company — which Hannon would not name — is pre-qualified by the federal General Services Administration, he said.
He attributed delays to the complexity of the technology, which is still being designed and will work in conjunction with the ShotSpotter audio gunshot detection system expected to be functioning within a couple months.
“We’ve had several meetings and attended conferences with law enforcement to come up with a consensus,” Hannon said. “Our primary focus of course will be at our family sites, and if our system works well, we’d have it done at our high-rise properties as well.”
Hannon declined to name the company working with the authority, but said it was referred to them by law enforcement.
Although the cameras and gunshot detection infrastructure need to be compatible, they don’t have to be installed simultaneously, Atlantic City police Lt. Jim Sarkos said.
““It’s a little bit longer of a process than we anticipated, but we’re getting there,” Sarkos said of ShotSpotter. “We just want to get it up as soon as possible.”
Staff writer Joel Landau contributed to this report.
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