Atlantic City is ready to hire the person who will take its antiquated police technology into the 21st century.
Hopes have been high since receiving a $3.5 million grant from the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority nearly two years ago. The funds could provide cameras that allow police to see what's happening from their cars and a system that quickly computes crime trends. The department is currently unable to do either.
City Council is set to vote Wednesday on proposals for the project manager who will lead the technological transformation.
The move comes three months after the city received eight replies to its requests for qualifications for the position. Just one of those companies - Northfield's Perfect Solutions Inc. - is local. Now, with a job description going out followed by proposals coming in, things will move quickly, leaders say.
The new project manager will have a substantial "to do" list, beginning with the foundation of public safety: the records management system and computer-assisted dispatch that shows how dispatchers log calls.
"That's really the crux of it," said Deputy Chief Bill Mazur, who has been coordinating the efforts on behalf of police. "That's your foundation. All of these other things are added benefits."
Right now, inside the Communications Department is a patchwork of older systems that offer a stable, "no crashes" work environment. But it has none of the technological conveniences that leaders know are out there, a recent tour of the room inside City Hall showed.
The 911 operators and dispatchers sit in separate areas, but have one thing in common: multiple monitors.
The systems don't integrate, so keeping an eye on radios, police officers on duty and the call being taken in all while typing up complaints requires different computer screens.
It's a huge contrast to the system city representatives saw during a tour of East Orange's Police Department earlier this year. Councilman Marty Small led a contingent there in January to observe the integration of cameras, global positioning and crime tracking to create a system that saw a 70 percent decline in crime over the first five years the Essex County town used it.
"That's what we want," said Tom Foley, the city's director of emergency management.
Patrol cars would function as traveling offices, with police able to file reports, get alerts and even pull up cameras throughout the city so they could have a virtual view of what's going on, Mazur said. Plans also include cameras inside the patrol cars and maybe even on the officers themselves.
"We're looking at an enterprise build-out, which encompasses so many different types of capabilities," Mazur said. "You're not sitting back just waiting for 911 calls, you're getting in front of these situations to prevent it."
Global positioning systems and silent dispatch - a way to send officers to calls without going over the public radio - are just some of the things they hope to incorporate in the new system, Foley said.
Additional help would include license plate readers that would automatically bring up any warrants attached to a vehicle or whether it may have been reported stolen. Instead, officers now have to rely on dispatchers to do look-ups, which can waste time and possibly endanger officers, Foley said.
The current records management system makes it hard to look at the city overall when it comes to crime, explained Training Supervisor John Seel. Rather than being able to look at a particular area, they currently must input every address to find out what the statistics are.
"That is just crippling to investigations," Seel said. "To be able to look at a particular crime area and integrate that with the CAD system would be a big boon for us."
East Orange uses a color-coding system that lets its personnel know if they're meeting their goals, such as areas being patrolled enough. Atlantic City's would be similar, Mazur explained.
For instance, if a domestic call averages 19 minutes, a call taking longer would blink yellow to alert dispatch to a possible problem.
Offering a blueprint for Atlantic City will be the IJIS Report, a free analysis conducted by the nonprofit formerly known as the Integrated Justice Information Systems Institute.
The department already replied to a preliminary report from IJIS, but is still awaiting the final version, which could be made public, Mazur said. IJIS also will help in finding grants that would help fund various aspects of the plan.
They have also been meeting with the state's Department of Homeland Security for possible help there.
"The ultimate goal is to give the department better management tools to figure out, in almost real time, what's going on," Mazur said.
The plan has been in the works for a long time, with discussions beginning even before the CRDA awarded the money in September 2011. It took another eight months to finalize a written agreement between them and the city on how it would be spent.
Since then, just $17,500 has been used, paying for the tip411 system that allows an anonymous, two-way text conversation between police and tipsters. The rest has been awaiting the project manager.
"This is going to have lasting effects on the Police Department for decades," Mazur said. "We wanted to make sure we did our due diligence with it."
"This project manager step is very important," Tourism District Commander Tom Gilbert said. "Once that's stabilized, they can move on with procuring whatever vendor can do the actual building out."
Small said he will be happy to see this first move finally come before City Council.
"My mission was to get this complete by the end of the year," he said. "The hiring of the project manager, that's step one. They will work with city officials to let us know what is conducive to our needs. We're well on our way to deter crime and make this city as safe as possible."
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