Trenton police keep electronic eyes peeled
Cameras to stand guard over `hot spots'
Tuesday, April 25, 2006
Staff Writer

TRENTON -- In an effort to throw a video dragnet around "hot spots," law enforcement officials will position 35 surveillance cameras throughout the capital city by Friday aimed at snagging drug dealers, gangs, prostitutes, illegal dumping and other criminal activity.

Just don't look for a map of where the cameras are located. That's a secret, and even if you do spot one of the camera bubbles hanging from a traffic light or pole, don't be so sure it's not a dummy model of the wireless seeing-eyes that will scan 360 degrees. The city will be installing several of the decoys in addition to the 35 working cameras.

The city is joining a growing number of locations throughout the United States and Europe where police departments are relying on video surveillance to catch criminals.

So far, the United Kingdom is the largest user of video surveillance with an estimated one camera for every 13 people. London reportedly has 500,000 cameras around the city with 6,000 located in the subway system alone. Last July, those cameras helped identify four suicide subway bombers.

New Orleans has 200 cameras, Chicago is linking 250 cameras to the 2,000 that monitor public housing, and Baltimore is spending $2 million for a network of 90 cameras in the touristy Inner Harbor area. Philadelphia Mayor John Street also wants to bring a video surveillance system to his city through a referendum next month.

In New York, there are 1,000 subway cameras, with another 2,100 set to be in place by 2008. Another 500 have been placed throughout the city and an additional 3,100 monitor the city's housing projects.

According to Jane Feigenbaum, Trenton's business administrator, the estimated cost of the cameras and software is $200,000. Mayor Douglas H. Palmer, announcing the installation yesterday at the communications office of the Trenton Police Department, called the surveillance "another initiative to improve the safety and security" of the city.

Police Director Joseph Santiago said the move to bring video surveillance to high crime areas of Trenton began three years ago. The spots were selected when each police commander was asked to `'identify five areas" where crime festered. Nine of the 35 cameras will monitor illegal dumping areas.

"In each precinct, police can monitor target locations," said Santiago. "Even those that are not monitored will serve as an investigational aid."

Santiago was referring to 15 traffic surveillance cameras that are not routinely monitored and store images for only three days.

The new cameras, 29 of which are already installed, will produce video kept for 45 days. The surveillance is around-the-clock, with nighttime images shown only in black-and-white.

Steven Ponella, acting director of communications for the city, said an employee will monitor the images for two hours at a time.

"We want to keep everybody fresh," he said of the rotation.

Currently, 65 of the 170 marked and unmarked police cars in the Trenton fleet will have monitors in them, allowing officers to pinpoint crimes in progress.

In a demonstration at police headquarters, two information systems managers looked at monitors, one filled with nine live video feeds from as many locations, the other a map of the city with locations of police cars.

One of the men pointed out that someone had already shot two bullet holes into one of the surveillance cameras.

Feigenbaum added that cameras can be moved if the areas monitored are not as crime-ridden as expected.

Councilwoman Cordelia Staton, who suggested the surveillance cameras when she took office in 2002, said she got the idea from a similar system used in Jersey City.

Looking across from the police station at a row house on North Clinton Avenue, Staton said she used to live there.

"Store owners told us they were intimidated by some of the people hanging outside their stores. These cameras will help us keep an eye on that," Staton added. "It can help us keep things safe."

Palmer calls the cameras "one more tool" to enhance public safety.

"The pan-tilt-zoom cameras offer real time and recorded images. It's almost like having more police on the street," said Palmer.

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Contact Joyce J. Persico at or at (609) 989-5662.

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