Thursday, August 28, 2008
One recent spring day, two cops in the Newark Police Dept. watched a shoot-out erupt in broad daylight. Two suspected drug dealers started blasting away at each other in the middle of an apartment complex. The cops didn't witness the violence on the beat, though. They watched it from the city's new communications command center, which collects live video feeds from more than 100 surveillance cameras scattered across the crime-ridden city.
As the shooting broke out, the policemen zoomed in on the scene with a joystick controller. They saw one gunman flee, while the other dragged himself into a nearby apartment, one blood-soaked leg trailing behind. Because of the camera network, the Newark police were able to dispatch a team to the crime scene immediately—90 seconds before the first 911 calls. The gunman who crawled into his apartment was arrested on the spot. "Those complexes are like mazes, but we knew exactly where to send the unit," says Sergeant Marvin Carpenter, commanding officer of the communications post.
The surveillance system is the centerpiece of Mayor Cory Booker's ambitious plan to use cutting-edge technologies to slash Newark's violent crime rate. This August, Newark finished its initial deployment of 111 cameras, adding 76 to the 35 that were in place last summer. Newark is investing in a whole range of tools, everything from mundane PCs to more novel technologies such as a new citywide broadband wireless network that will let cops fill out police reports from their squad cars instead of schlepping back to the station house. By late fall, Newark expects to complete the deployment of an audio sensor system to pinpoint gunshot locations that cameras fail to catch. "We are trying to leave the Flintstones and get to the Jetsons," says Booker. [Mark Godsey]