ATLANTIC CITY — Bill Draper sat on a bench near Texas Avenue on the Boardwalk Wednesday afternoon and knew he was being watched.
Draper, of Livonia, New York, was fully aware the cameras that dot the Boardwalk were recording his vacation, and he didn’t have a problem with it at all. In fact, he was encouraged by it.
In this day and age, “you have to do it,” he said, adding the cameras “keep people honest.”
Those cameras are not limited to the Boardwalk.
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In total, police monitor 971 cameras throughout the city, Atlantic City police Deputy Chief James Sarkos said, only 178 of which are city-owned. Through project PACT, which stands for Protecting Atlantic City Together, the Police Department has partnered with 19 businesses that share their camera feeds with the police in an effort to stop crime before it happens, increase security and solve crimes.
The camera feeds are monitored 24/7 by surveillance officers conducting “virtual patrols” in the Atlantic City Headquarters for Intelligence Logistics Electronic Surveillance, or ACHILES, Sarkos said. These officers are all retired from the department and “know the hot spots” of the city, he added.
The officers monitor several camera feeds at once on their computer screens and screens mounted to the wall, and are able to seamlessly switch from camera to camera.
The city’s Housing Authority was the first to partner with police through the project, Sarkos said.
“It’s been very successful for us,” said Tom Hannon, executive director of the Housing Authority, who has 500 cameras feeding to the police in real time. “It helps to give them all the more views of our properties, and it’s changed from being a reactive to a proactive policing model.”
He said while it hasn’t eliminated crime, the presence of cameras has decreased break-ins and vandalism.
Hannon said the residents know the cameras are there, and they “spread the word that PD is always watching.”
Sarkos said the cameras “transform the way we do things,” adding the old way of canvassing an area after responding to a crime took up valuable time and resources.
“It increases our ability to respond to these calls both efficiently and effectively,” he said. The cameras have caught assaults and burglaries in progress and even bicycle thefts, he said.
Donna Danielson, general manager of Tanger Outlets The Walk at the base of the Atlantic City Expressway, said sharing the camera feeds is mutually beneficial for her and the Police Department.
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Although the police don’t have access to cameras inside the stores, they see real-time video from the ones trained on the sidewalk and streets.
“We’re on city streets, so they get to see the traffic flow,” she said. “We can just work together on any issues or incidents that take place.”
Capt. Bob Campbell, who heads the Police Department’s Violent Crimes Unit, said camera coverage has assisted police with investigating and even solving nonfatal shootings.
So far this year, cameras assisted police in five of seven nonfatal shooting investigations, Campbell said.
“Having that real-time access has been huge,” Sarkos said. “It’s really helped us a lot because time matters when you’re doing these investigations, and the sooner we can get it, the better we are at solving these crimes.”
The effort — and the city’s web of cameras — is growing.
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A new piece of surveillance equipment called Skywatch was debuted at the Sam Hunt beach concert July 1. The 28-foot-tall portable observation tower has seven cameras, including one thermal imaging camera, Sarkos said. It will be deployed during the Miss America Competition in September and the airshow in August and can be put in any neighborhood. In addition, 16 cameras were added to Harold Brown Memorial Park between Stanley Holmes Village and the Schoolhouse Apartments in the 3rd Ward.
And the department’s newest PACT partner is Stockton University, which will begin sharing its camera feeds as soon as the city campus is opened this fall, Sarkos said.
“Our ultimate goal in having all these cameras is that people see the cameras and decide not to commit a crime,” he said. “It’s great that we make an arrest after a crime happens, but if we can stop that crime from ever occurring, then we’re truly successful.”