Tom Gilbert was no stranger to Atlantic City when he arrived in 2011 to lead policing for the newly created Tourism District. As a State Police detective, he was first assigned to the resort in 1986 as part of the Organized Crime Bureau. In his current position, he sees the job not as overseeing a specific part of the city but collaborating with law enforcement throughout the town.
Q: What has been the biggest difference between your perceptions coming into the position and the realities?
A: I think what we found is that the collaboration (among) the partners ... is really exceptional. I think a lot of people from outside Atlantic City have perceptions (that) people can't work together, won't work together. And I've found the exact opposite to be true. ... I think an example is the meeting
we just both came from a few minutes ago over at the Carnegie Center, where you had academic partners with Stockton, you had law-enforcement leaders, including the chief, the public safety director, the county sheriff, the county prosecutor, all there together with some common goals about violence prevention.
Q: What do you think are some of the biggest accomplishments since the Tourism District was formed?
A: I think (it's) the fact that we've been able to attract more people to Atlantic City. The public safety mission is directly linked to the economic revitalization of the city, and that's what all of us have been tasked to do. ... I hear a lot of positive feedback from people that come to Atlantic City that are from the outside, and they really compliment everybody's efforts. ... The city looks different, it was a different experience than maybe it was a couple of years ago, and that's what we were really all tasked to try to accomplish.
That to me is the key goal: Will people come here for the first time? Will they give it a chance a second time? So a lot of what we're doing is to really (help people understand) that if they come here they can have a safe and fun experience.
Q: What, going forward, do you see as the biggest challenge?
A: I think we want to continue to work on the technology. We have very good partnerships going with the prosecutor and the sheriff and the federal agencies. But certainly, what we'd like to do is to continue to add to the technology capacities here in the city. And to the credit of the Police Department, they currently have a solicitation out right now looking for a vendor that would come in and serve as a project manager for the IT rebuild, which is funded with $3.5 million of CRDA money. So I see us moving forward with that.
I think that's critically important, because you want to have the best practices. We can create a nice hub of technology and plug additional things into them like cameras, license-plate readers, whatever it may be. That will only help us farther down the road to making the city cleaner and safer.
Q: How important are the technology upgrades, and exactly what are some of the things that you would like to see accomplished with them?
A: For example, the county Prosecutor's Office has taken the lead in inventorying existing cameras that are here. We put up the MutuaLink system, which links the casinos and some of the other critical infrastructure here in the city about being able to push information and being able to push video.
Tanger Outlets, one of our private partners ... they've installed a complete video system in the entire span of the outlet complex.
New Jersey Transit is working with us. They've done significant upgrades on their video capacity.
The (AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center) and the AtlantiCare system ... significant upgrades.
We're working with all our partners as we move toward the Miss America pageant with things like lighting, with things like cameras, with information sharing. They all help us do our job better.
Q: That's something that people have talked about, the separation of the Tourism District and the neighborhoods and things like that. Has there been a buy-in with casinos and with other entities outside the neighborhoods in helping the entire city become safer?
A: I can tell you (the other day) I had the opportunity to talk to some members of the (Atlantic City Task Force). Now that's a state-led task force, but it very much includes the Prosecutor's Office, the city Police Department and there's great integration going on there.
When I was talking to them yesterday, they were actually headed out to do some work which was not in the Tourism District. So I think, from a law-enforcement perspective, whether it be the prosecutor, the sheriff, the public safety director here, Chief (Ernest) Jubilee, myself, Deputy Chief (Henry) White ... we've all known from the very beginning that this was an all-in approach and that Atlantic City has one Uniform Crime reporting number and that our efforts to make Atlantic City safe - not just the Tourism District - are critically important. We've all worked in that fashion. We don't look at the map of what's in and out of the Tourism District even as we try to do some other things. ... That would only slow us down and hold us back.
So we've been encouraged by the governor, by the Senate president, by the local legislators not to get caught up in any depiction that there's an in-the-Tourism District and out-of-the-Tourism District. What we're trying to do is things that are for the overall betterment of Atlantic City, Atlantic County and the surrounding South Jersey region.
Q: When State Police first came into the city, there was a perception that law enforcement doesn't work well together. What has the relationship with the state and city police been like?
A: I've found nothing but a lot of ... self-pride within the Atlantic City Police Department. And, actually, in a way, they've made me ... look very good as we got into this. ... I think there was a bit of a misperception in the beginning. ... As this was starting to unfold ... the superintendent of the State Police and I very strongly took a position that you had a very competent police department here, and what we could do is come in here and build around the edges and try to understand and identify some opportunities to help build their capacity. Not that they were broken. Not that they needed to be fixed.
They've recently gotten state-level accreditation from the New Jersey State Association of Chiefs of Police, which is a credit to their professionalism. They've gone out and done an excellent job. The public safety director and the chief of police have been completely supportive, where we sat down and figured out things we could do to move their programs forward with the IT grant. They've been directly involved with that, pushing that real hard. They've been involved in trying to retrofit the cameras in the high-crime areas of the city that are also owned by the Housing Authority. The Police Department was directly involved in what we did with Tanger Outlets with the cameras. Lt. (James) Sarkos and other members of the Police Department (were involved) with the ShotSpotter technology. What I try to do is help where I can with what they are already doing. But they, in and of their own abilities and commitment to the city, have done some really good things.
Q: Beyond law enforcement, what does your job entail?
A: I think what's been neat for me is that with the governor and the Senate president ... we were able to advocate (for something) on the basis of what was done in New York City and Times Square. You go over and look in Philadelphia, or you look at what's happened down in Baltimore, you can't just police your way out of a challenge. You have to look at "What are all the other contributing factors?" So the thing that I've really enjoyed is we've dealt here with really building collaborations and bringing people together on such things as homelessness.
Many times your job is really to chase crime numbers and try to knock those crime numbers down. But what we have found to be very important (is) you look at the Broken Windows concept ... in New York City where they took an all-in approach. So you had the police department ... you had the mayor resonating a message that went down through the police department, went down to what they did with real estate, went down to code enforcement, went down to everything they did. If you go up to Times Square today (what they did) to change that environment was not just about policing, it was really an all-in, all-hands-on-deck approach. And I think in a lot of ways we're building that same approach here as we move along.
Q: What are some of the plans moving forward?
A: I think what we've done is we've implemented a program called A.C. Stat. In New York City, they had started with the ComStat program with the police department.
Entities across the country have seen the benefit of that, where you look at data and you say, "What is the data telling us?" "What does the data tell us we have to focus on?" and "How do we identify things and make sure that we follow through on them?" The ComStat process was embraced by cities across the country in a program called Citi-Stat, which went a little bit broader. We've actually implemented a program, in partnership with (Director of Licensing and Inspections Anthony) Cox and other members of the city administration, including (Public Safety) Director (Will) Glass and Chief Jubilee, to look at things like demolitions, to look at code enforcement. Because if you talk to the police officers that are out on the street every day, they're going to tell you that some of those issues drive the fabric of the neighborhoods and the communities they police. And if we can make gains and progress with such things as getting buildings down and demolished in a timely fashion, if that is what needs to happen, that's good. If we can figure out where code enforcement and lighting issues may come together in kind of a hot-spot situation where if we put some attention to things where if we either get lights replaced or upgraded - partnering with the city, Atlantic City Electric and the CRDA - we can really make some significant positive steps on behalf of the neighborhoods.
Q: One thing that's stuck with people is this whole battle between the governor and the mayor. How has it been for you, coming in as kind of this state representative?
A: I think I've been treated very well by the mayor. At times I think I've had the opportunity to joke with both the mayor and the governor. I find myself sometimes in unusual circumstances (such as their battle during Hurricane Sandy) ... but I think at the end of the day, both the governor and the mayor have common goals, it's that we're all working to make Atlantic City better.
There may be some different views on things, but the good thing is, I work in a very common-ground area where making Atlantic City clean and safe - and that's all of Atlantic City, not just the Tourism District - that is something that everyone knows is good for everybody that lives here, that visits here, that works here. So the mayor has been very good with me. The business administrator (has been) very good with me. You know that with Director Glass and the leadership of the Police Department, I couldn't ask for a better relationship and a more open relationship than the one that I have with them. They've been excellent and they perform a very good job, and I've gotten to see policing all across the state and many places outside of the state. The Atlantic City Police Department does an excellent job day in and day out here.
Q: Do you think the Atlantic City Task Force is indicative of that relationship more than the outward one that people are seeing?
A: Yeah, and I have a history of law enforcement here. I was first assigned here in 1986 to the State Police Organized Crime Bureau. So I've had a firsthand view of the ebbs and flows of relationships. What I can tell you is if I talk to (acting Atlantic County) Prosecutor (Jim) McClain or I talk to the leadership of the Police Department here, everybody is very pleased with the integrated effort that they've all brought to the table. And we have all levels of law enforcement working together. And the results that they've produced - and I think it's not just a statistical result that they've produced - I think it's the impact they've had on the tone and tenor of violent crime in the city. We've known where that is. We've used data to figure out where we should focus our efforts. What's really critically important, which I think has benefited Atlantic City a lot, is we've tried to really adopt a philosophy that the best crime for Atlantic City is the one that never happens. Not to be in a totally reactive mode. So I think the task force has been a key issue or a key element to help supplement what the Police Department does every day.
'Cause you always want to have a proactive element. And if you go back a few years, I think, because of budget cuts, compression of rank and different things that happened here, you sometimes have to go back to your core mission, which is, you know, 911 calls and responding to what's coming in over the radio and responding to the public. The task force has the ability to, one, be proactive every day, and I think that resonates with those that might consider doing bad things here in the city. They know there is a task force that can take a breath and focus on their bad behavior and can reach out and touch those people in the right way to discourage the bad behavior. I think that's been critically important.
You always want to have a proactive arm that's very integrated with where you want to go on an everyday basis. I think that's been extremely beneficial. And I think that's why it's really valued by again the prosecutor and the leadership here in the city. You always want to have a proactive extension of your policing abilities.
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