The Atlantic City Police Department has failed to take advantage of crime-fighting technology that is being used routinely elsewhere, and as a result is unable to electronically map crimes, analyze crime data and detect trends with its current computer systems.
When Bernadette Kucharczuk arrived last summer to take over the city’s information and technology duties, there were even communication problems among the different systems.
“I’ve seen very lean organizations,” the experienced technology director said. “But this is the leanest.”
The city is hoping to use a Casino Reinvestment Development Authority grant to improve its technology, including putting laptops in every patrol car and upgrading its computer-aided dispatch system, or CAD, which is how dispatchers log calls.
The dispatch system is a prime example of how technology unavailable to the Atlantic City department could help fight crime. If a technology overhaul is approved, the CAD could be fed into a system that would bring up a call location on a map. GPS would let the dispatcher know where the nearest patrol car is to the source of the call. Kucharczuk said dispatchers also would not have to re-enter the same information again and again.
“Intelligence-based policing is something we’ve wanted to do for a long time,” said Deputy Chief Ernest Jubilee, who runs the department’s day-to-day operations.
The city was not always so behind the times, retired Chief John Mooney said.
In the 1970s, the department was one of the first to have data terminals in its police cars. Now, it is one of the few departments in New Jersey in which no car has a computer. Lack of funding and the fact that technological upgrades were not a political priority contributed to deteriorating technical capacity, Mooney said.
“My understanding is that, in those days, the funding for that was provided by grants,” he said. “Unfortunately, the grant money dried up. There wasn’t a lot of political will to continue the project, and the equipment fell into disrepair. Unfortunately, that’s been a steady diet of what’s continued to occur: a lack of political will to provide equipment and technology and manpower to keep the Police Department running well.”
Now, department staffing is at its lowest since casino gambling came to the city in 1978, when there were 272 officers. Since then, the ranks had not fallen below 315 until last year, when 60 officers were laid off. Concessions returned 17 to duty in December, bringing the number to 300, which includes those out on disability or for other reasons.
“In this day and age of limited resources, you have to use technology,” said Daren Dooley, chief of detectives for the Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office. “Intelligence-based policing and predictive policing are what we need to be doing.”
As other police departments in the county put computers in their cars and updated their office equipment, Atlantic City’s equipment has stayed relatively unchanged.
“What’s antiquated is the software we’re running,” Jubilee said. “There have been so many improvements to records management systems.”
Information such as the number of calls for service, types of crime and where and when crimes happen is even more important with tightened manpower, Mooney said.
In times when staffing is higher, “it’s very easy to say a neighborhood needs more police protection and add it,” he said. “Unfortunately, police commanders are left with decisions to remove (resources) from certain areas. It’s a lot easier to say, ‘The data shows why we’re making this decision,’ rather than to subject the decision-making process to political diatribe. Without it, you’re basically left to the anecdotal knowledge and experience of commanders.”
In Lower Township, Cape May County, a five-year capital plan has been used to upgrade technology to include computers in every car and GPS tracking, Chief Ed Donohue said. The mobile terminals even have a thumb pad to allow officers to check a suspect’s record before they head back to the station. Rather than having to run checks through dispatch, as Atlantic City does, the officers can make checks on their own.
“It’s a lot faster,” Donohue said. “It’s better for officer safety and for the public safety.”
But in Atlantic City, the computer systems go back to the 1990s, Jubilee said.
“They are challenged, yes,” Kucharczuk said of the department. “All of the city is challenged.”
Jubilee has said that Mooney did not apply for grant money that was available. And Atlantic County Prosecutor Ted Housel said he had been led to believe grant money was available, but he was unsure why applications were not made.
Mooney, however, said that things looked promising in 2006. Bob Levy was mayor, and he and the then-chief met with the CRDA and the state Attorney General’s Office. Then, State Police were brought in to assess the department’s current system.
“Quite frankly, the project bogged down,” Mooney said. “It was disappointing to see that happen.”
The state, he said, wanted to take too much control.
“My take on it is that, as we tried to move forward, there was a certain level of resistance from the state in terms of moving forward with the funding,” Mooney said. “Suffice it to say, I was frustrated by the delays.”
The project died in the waning days of former Gov. Jon S. Corzine’s administration, he said.
Now, the city has vowed to use the CRDA’s offer to its fullest and work with the agency, which wants to oversee how its funds are spent.
The plan includes moving sworn officers out of the information and technology department and putting civilians in, city Business Administrator Michael Scott said. That would free up those officers to go back to other police duties, where they are needed.
It also ensures those working in IT have that specific training, Kucharczuk said.
“The things that make people good police officers are not necessarily the same qualities that make a good IT person,” she said. “I would never be a really good cop.”
Some police computers are 10 to 12 years old, Kucharczuk said. Under the new plan, there would be a five-year turnover. High-performance users would receive a new computer after two or three years, while others would get the older machine passed down.
“You make two people happy with one computer buy,” she said.
When soliciting bids for the project, many considerations will be made, Kucharczuk said, including that the cheapest may not be the best. The city will be looking for system compatibility and ease of use. Jubilee and some of his department heads also are being consulted.
“They know exactly what they need,” Kucharczuk said. “And I know what they could be doing.”
Lower Township’s chief said the technology can go beyond police work. The township is inputting information for Lower’s fire companies, going around to different businesses to find out where hazardous materials are and taking pictures of the inside. In the future, responders will be able to access information ahead of time about what they’re facing.
“It’s a lot of legwork at first,” Donohue said. “But years from now, the fire department will be able to pull up what kind of hazardous materials are there and will be able to actually look at photographs of the inside of the building.”
Despite the payoff of such technology, he said he knows the costs and believes that county offices will soon join in to help municipalities get the equipment — and have the same things across the board.
Housel said the Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office is looking into a system that would be offered to all municipalities and would likely use federal grant money. Because it’s in the planning stages, his office did not want to comment on it.
But he did say that municipalities have been offered free document scanners — bought with grants — that will enable more easy sharing of files. Now, paper files are often sent by courier or through the mail, creating a time lapse.
Also, to save valuable investigative time, the office had college students go around Atlantic City and Pleasantville — Atlantic County’s other high-in-crime but low-in-technology town — to see which businesses have surveillance cameras and what kind. The information will be put into Google Earth so that, when an incident occurs, the investigator can bring it up and see where the cameras were that may have captured a crime.
“The old-fashioned way of knocking on every door can take time,” Housel said. “Time can cause erasure (of tapes).”
Housel said he hopes that the county and Atlantic City can work toward better technology to aid law enforcement.
“In the age of intelligence-driven policing, technology is very important,” he said. “It gives information that allows us to visualize things like deployment. We can tell you where, what time of day and what day of the week crime is more likely to occur.”
“It’s definitely a force multiplier,” Mooney said, adding that he never really understood the hesitance in spending for technology. “In the end, it’s cheaper than manpower. You don’t have to pay health insurance or pension costs. You don’t have to give a computer or a camera sick time.”
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