North Bergen will continue to develop their closed circuit television camera (CCTV) system in an effort to catch criminals, and the town plans to poll residents about the program.
The CCTV system was initially implemented roughly 20 months ago after several years of planning. The system is comprised of 90 active cameras located primarily in the business districts of town, according to North Bergen Police Captain Robert Dowd.
The cameras are monitored 24/7 at the North Bergen Operation Center at 5930 Tonnelle Ave., which also houses the 911 Emergency Dispatch. The monitoring station is staffed by three civilians, as well as several retired public safety personnel. Three eight-hour shifts occur each day, with employees supervised by a current lieutenant or sergeant in the Police Department.
“We’re hoping to mold it into something that’s extremely effective.” – Captain Robert Dowd
The town is currently in the planning phase to implement new cameras along the downtown section of North Bergen. They are funded in the city’s newest budget.
The system was installed by Lyndhurst-based Packetalk, LLC. According to Township Administrator Chris Pianese, the currently-stationed cameras are powerful enough to accurately display the faces of people from on top of the observation deck at the Empire State Building.
While members of the police department feel the system has been very effective in reducing crime, the police are currently conducting a survey to gauge feedback from residents.
NBPD says it’s effective
According to Dowd, since the implementation of the system, several crimes have been solved due to the effectiveness of the cameras and those monitoring them.
“They’ve helped solve everything from quality-of-life complaints to a very serious job like a bank robbery,” said Dowd.
Dowd recalled an incident in late September when an Elizabeth man was arrested after he allegedly broke into a house on 78th Street. With the help of the camera system, police were able to find the suspect hiding behind sheds in the Lowe’s parking lot along Tonnelle Avenue.
According to Dowd, video footage from the cameras was used to help the investigation of a bank robbery earlier this year, as well as eight investigations regarding serious motor vehicle accidents.
“We only use them for serious [accidents], obviously,” said Dowd. “We’d really be stretching ourselves if we did it for every routine [accident.]”
Captain Gerald Sanzari also mentioned a street robbery that was solved using the cameras, as well as several car break-ins.
“We’re expanding on its use and effectiveness every day,” said Dowd. “We’re hoping to mold it into something that’s extremely effective.”
The cameras have also captured smaller crimes. At one point, police observed two men allegedly dumping two large garbage bags onto the street. The men were then issued fines for illegal dumping.
What does the public think?
Most concerns over the citywide installation of cameras are centered over whether such a system invades the privacy of residents.
Dowd has said that cameras have only been placed in public places, and that each camera has privacy safeguards, such as the ability to black out windows past the first floor.
“No one is looking to have this Orwellian type of state where privacy is a concern,” said Dowd.
According to Dowd, he and other supervising officers are involved in a master’s program for criminal justice. One of his courses, “Legal Issues in Criminal Justice,” focuses heavily on privacy concerns.
“[We] know that they [the cameras] are not to be used for any purpose other than specifically public safety-related tasks,” added Dowd.
The NBPD is currently conducting a quick citizen satisfaction survey. Although the survey is still underway, and data is preliminary, the available results are interesting.
According to Dowd, the survey revealed that 94.1 percent of residents are aware of the cameras. Ninety-eight percent of respondents indicated that they would like to see more cameras in business shopping areas, and roughly 97 percent said they would like more cameras in residential areas.
The survey also asked if respondents feel that video cameras invade people’s privacy. Only 9.1 percent of those polled agreed with that statement. More than 60 percent disagreed. The remaining respondents indicated that they had no opinion.
“We want the people of the township to benefit from it,” said Dowd. “We do have their privacy interests [in mind] and we’re going to balance that with the need to use technology to make things a little more efficient and a little more effective.”
“We feel the technology has been useful,” added Dowd. “[But] we don’t rely solely on the technology. We combine it with statistics, and some old-fashioned police work.”
The survey, available to North Bergen residents and business owners, can be taken at www.surveymonkey.com/s/nbpdcctv. Those without access to the internet can obtain a hard copy by contacting the Police Department.
Stephen LaMarca may be reached at email@example.com.