ATLANTIC CITY - The focus Tuesday may have been on the boundaries of the city's new Tourism District, but for the man tasked with overseeing public safety in the zone, it's all about erasing lines.
"Overall, the plan takes a holistic approach to policing the city," said State Police Lt. Col. Tom Gilbert, the district's commander. "The work we've been doing is a very close partnership to include the entire city as a whole, not just the district. We look at this as all-inclusive of what we're trying to do."
Gilbert said the city and state need to collaborate to meet Gov. Chris Christie's goal of making the city "clean and safe" for those who live and work there as well as the millions who visit each year. In addtion to city, county and state law enforcement working together, participation from residents, business owners, casinos and social service agencies will be needed, he said.
The foundation of that model, he said, is the Atlantic City Police Department: "This is the (department's) chance to shine."
Deputy police Chief Ernest Jubilee said he feels good about the focus being on Atlantic City, "especially the safe part," confirming that the public safety focus and the law-enforcement partnership will go beyond the boundaries of the Tourism District.
"You can't peel out a section of the city and say, ‘Well, we're going to make this area safe, and forget the rest of the city,'" Jubilee said. "You can't do policing that way."
What will help policing, both agreed, is the much-talked about - and currently lacking - technological aspect.
A report by The Press of Atlantic City in February pointed out how antiquated the Police Department's computers are. The department is unable to map crime, analyze data and detect trends.
"One of the biggest challenges the Police Department faces right now is technology," Gilbert said. "That's a very key issue."
State Police were asked to assess the department's system about four years ago. That project broke down amid an apparent power struggle, then-police Chief John Mooney said earlier this year, but the increased partnership stemming from the Tourism District appears to have put it back on track.
The city already is processing paperwork to purchase mobile computer units for 20 of its 60 patrol cars through a federal grant. Another quarter-million-dollar federal grant was awarded last week to purchase crime-fighting technology.
Everything is about moving forward, Gilbert said: "I don't like to spend a lot of time looking in the rear-view mirror."
As the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority voted to establish the district Tuesday afternoon, Gilbert, Jubilee and Deputy police Chief Henry White toured the Boardwalk - now part of the district - looking for possible locations for a police substation.
Usually, Jubilee is against substations, because they leave an officer stationary. But he has said one on the Boardwalk would provide a much-needed police presence and sense of security. He said he also wants to put a substation in one of the city's neighborhoods, although he did not say which one.
"That comes from the meetings with residents," he said. "They tell me that they want the police in their neighborhoods. This is what the residents want. I'm trying to be accommodating."
Gilbert also has spent time meeting with "stakeholders" in the city, which he said will help with other problems in the resort. He cited a Boardwalk sweep last week that had the Atlantic City Rescue Mission and AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center working with police to help the homeless living under the Boardwalk.
"Those individuals didn't start there, they ended up there," Gilbert said. "What brought them there? That's what we need to look at."
In New York City, he said, the rebirth of Times Square was not just about getting rid of violent crime, but taking care of things such as the homeless people who would try to clean windshields as cars entered the area.
"It's the smaller little things that impact the fabric of the community," Gilbert said.
What Gilbert has found within the community, he said, is optimism.
"I think everyone is in the same ballpark as far as what the needs and objectives are," he said. "We're not approaching it from different places. That doesn't always happen."
Working with others is not new to the city, Jubilee said.
"We've always worked with other agencies," he said. "More formally now that we've been shorthanded."
Last year, the department lost 60 officers to layoffs. So far, 20 have returned, bringing the total to 300. Efforts to bring back another 30 are under way, city Business Administrator Michael Scott confirmed last week.
Gilbert could not say how many State Police officers are in the city, the ranks of whom have been supplemented by the Atlantic County Prosecutor's Office and other agencies since the layoffs. How many officers it will take to police the city or the Tourism District has not been set, Gilbert said, adding that they are still trying to maximize what they already have. Technology will assist in that, because it will finally allow the city to map crime and deploy officers accordingly, he said.
Gilbert may be the commander, but he sees his job more as the person fitting together the puzzle pieces that already exist to better serve the city.
"We have to take a look at what we have and how to best position it," he said.
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