While the exterior may look the same, the inside of the North Bergen police headquarters is going to be completely new come January. The second floor is being gutted and rebuilt into a high-tech command center, at no cost to the taxpayer. The project will be funded by seized drug funds, to the tune of about $320,000.
The centerpiece of the new construction will be the combined CCTV monitoring station and dispatch center. Demolition began on Oct. 31 to knock down walls and open up a large space to create a coordinated central command center.
The new room will house the 911 and dispatch personnel at one end. The other end will feature a wall of screens where the town’s more than 100 street cameras can be monitored. A supervisor will sit in the center of the room, overseeing personnel manning the individual operations.
Once complete, all CCTV monitoring personnel will move in-house from the current location on Tonnelle Avenue next to the DPW.
‘There’s no such thing as status quo in the police department.’ –Public Safety Commissioner Allen Pascual
The consolidated arrangement allows for zero lag time between receipt of a 911 call and monitoring of the situation. “Let’s say 911 call comes in,” said Dowd. “The dispatcher picks up the phone and we’ve got an incident. The supervisor’s sitting right here. The first thing he’s going to say is, ‘Cue up the camera at that location.’”
Police can instantly view the trouble spot even as they dispatch responders to the site. “From the efficiency end, you might have a situation where a caller says, ‘We’ve got a big fight at 79th and Bergenline.’ We cue up the cameras, it’s two 7-year-old girls fighting with each other. So let’s not send seven cars. Let’s send one car and straighten it out. We’re going to be able to be more effective and utilize our resources better.”
Crime Prevention and Intelligence Center (CPIC)
Across the hallway from the command center will be another new multipurpose room. The former court room, which has been vacant since the new courthouse opened on Bergen Turnpike in 2012, will become the Crime Prevention and Intelligence Center, or CPIC.
In addition to a monitor wall, the room will contain a modular conference table and rows of seats. All briefings will be run out of this room, including press conferences and CompStat meetings.
CompStat meetings are intensive reviews of recent and open cases, which the department has been running for six or seven years. “All the commanders get together, all the unit supervisors. The heads of every unit come in regardless of their assignment,” said Dowd. “Everyone gets together and for those couple of hours we focus on crime in the township. We do a relentless follow-up and a granular critique of what could we have done better and what can we do in the future to prevent problems from reoccurring.”
Currently held biweekly, CompStat meetings will be stepped up to weekly once construction is complete. CPIC will also serve as the hub for new technology such as digital mapping.
“We’re going to be tracking intelligence leads from other police departments,” said Dowd. “We’ve formed a relationship with Newark’s real-time crime center, run by the state police. They’re going to be helping us analyze all our data daily for hot spots, and we’re going to be constantly tracking data in this room. Whenever anyone gets arrested anywhere in the state of New Jersey and they have a connection to North Bergen, we’re going to be alerted the next morning.”
Paid for by your local drug dealer
“None of this costs taxpayers a nickel,” said Public Safety Commissioner Allen Pascual. “The resources, the technology, everything’s being upgraded.”
“What better way to spend drug dealers’ money than on crime prevention?” added Dowd. “Couldn’t be better.”
The upgrades are being funded by a combination of funds seized locally and in conjunction with the DEA. “On the federal end, we have about $450,000 and we’re going to use about $170,000 of it for the actual physical construction,” said Dowd. That money was part of a $700,000 stash seized from a storage locker on River Road in 2009. It took six years for the funds to be released to North Bergen. Those funds are being allocated for the physical construction.
An additional $150,000 is coming from funds seized by local narcotics units. Because state forfeitures cannot be used for “brick and mortar” construction, these funds will be used for the technology upgrades and other incidentals like furniture and a new radio system to replace the current 25-year-old one.
Deputy Chief Peter Fasilis is the project manager for the HQ facelift. The overall plan includes sourcing from local vendors and extensive improvements and additions, including upgrades to the 911 lines and the installation of biometric security, meaning hand scanners to get into secure areas of the building.
The police desk has temporarily been moved to the first floor of police headquarters in the records room. Once construction is complete, the police desk will move back upstairs to the second floor, next to the elevator and a waiting area. The prisoner processing area on the second floor is also being revamped to increase officer safety.
All construction is taking place on the second floor, with an anticipated completion date of Jan. 31. The area under construction has been closed off with temporary walls to minimize noise and dust. There may be parking restrictions along Hillside Avenue during the construction period to accommodate construction equipment and vehicles. In an effort to minimize the impact to neighbors, parking spaces will be reassigned and police vehicles relocated to other locations during the renovation.
“This is a 100-year-old building. It needed an update,” said Dowd. “I know how professional this department has become. But when people come in, the place is run down. It looks institutional, like a dungeon. First impressions are big. We know the professional level we’re rising to. It’s only fitting that the employees have the environment to back that up.”
“A better environment brings up your productivity, it brings up your morale,” added Pascual. “The chief’s vision was to make this a better department with state-of-the-art equipment and to improve the facility so police officers are happier and it’s more professional.”
“The bottom line is there’s no such thing as status quo in the police department,” he concluded.
Art Schwartz may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.