The Atlantic City Police Department officially opened its new City Hall Internal Affairs office Friday, as well as announcing the deployment of body cameras on all patrolling officers and a new computerized system to keep track of police behavior.
The ACPD said that in recent years, Atlantic City’s crime rate has dropped, while police performance and community relations have improved.
Use of force reports decreased from 826 in 2013 to 544 in 2014, according to ACPD statistics discussed Friday. Excessive force complaints declined from 57 to 42 during that period, while the complaints handled by Internal Affairs dropped from 215 to 144.
So far this year, 124 use of force reports have been filed, the ACPD said, along with just six excessive force complaints and 14 Internal Affairs complaints.
The ACPD said these trends will be further improved by its latest procedural and technological initiatives.
The Internal Affairs office, located in room 505 on the fifth floor of City Hall, is open to the public. Police Chief Henry White said the office was opened to “make it as convenient as possible” for issues with officers to “be addressed in a timely manner.”
Internal Affairs is open Monday-Friday, from 8 a.m. until 4 p.m. Residents can call 609-347-5780 after hours and on the weekends to file a complaint against the police.
The new body cameras being worn by the ACPD will further improve accountability, White said.
The chief said many past complaints against the police have been filed by individuals who became intoxicated at casinos, but subsequently appeared reputable in court.
“We’ve been at a disadvantage,” White said. “Now the cameras will catch (the) real moment. ”
White said the presence of cameras will also deter both members of the public, and officers, from engaging in problematic behavior.
Video and audio recordings from the cameras will be submitted to a website, evidence.com, maintained by TASER, the camera manufacturer. White said the recordings will be treated like other any other piece of investigatory material collected by the ACPD.
Atlantic City Mayor Don Guardian said protocols surrounding the cameras’ use are still being worked out, and that the city has been seeking the advice of groups like the American Civil Liberties Union to make sure best practices are employed.
The department’s new Administrative Investigative Management, or AIM, software system is another tool the ACPD said they are using to more effectively track officer activity.
The system, which records and connects a variety of data points related to ACPD members, accentuates an Early Warning System the police say they’ve already put in place to assess whether officers are meeting department standards.
Lt. Bridget Pierce, who commands Internal Affairs along with Lt. Lee Hendricks, said the ACPD has studied successful departments around the country, and “revamped the whole process” by which internal investigations take place.
It now identifies potentially troubling trends early, she said, providing a chance for officers to examine their conduct with supervisors so they can quickly receive any needed training or discipline.
At other times, the data may show that particular beats result in more force-related police activity, Pierce said, allowing the department to prioritize its resources and personnel most effectively.
Pierce said the ACPD has proactively sought the feedback of community groups in an effort to build trust between the public and police.
But Steve Young, who directs the National Action Network’s South Jersey Chapter, said Friday that much more must be done.
While he said Chief White and the department do deserve some praise for improvements they’ve made, Young said decreases in complaints and use of force reports are also attributable to a drop in the total number of people visiting Atlantic City.
Sgt. Monica McMenamin, the ACPD’s Public Information Officer, said that department investigations have resulted in disciplinary actions taken against, and suspensions of, officers.
But Young said the public has lost faith in the ability of both the ACPD and the county to investigate local officers, and called for the passage of legislation turning such matters over to the state Attorney General.
The creation of a civilian review board to evaluate complaints against the police would also help, Young said.
“They’re not out on the street like we are,” Young said of Internal Affairs investigators. “Give us the opportunity to work with you to get it done.”
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