PD has 1,200 eyes on city

Connecticut Post (Sunday) - - Front Page - By Tara O’Neill

BRIDGE­PORT — If a red car is spot­ted driv­ing away from a crime, within min­utes Bridge­port po­lice can track down ev­ery red car in the city.

This is made pos­si­ble by the po­lice depart­ment’s new Fu­sion Cen­ter, at 999 Broad St., which is staffed around the clock to mon­i­tor the 1,200 cam­eras around the city, Lt. Paul Grech said.

“But it’s not Big Brother watch­ing,” he said.

The depart­ment uses the cen­ter to fo­cus on qual­ity of life, Grech said — in some places that means watch­ing out for pos­si­ble drug trans­ac­tions or shoot­ings, in oth­ers it means catch­ing il­le­gal dumpers.

“This place al­lows us to mon­i­tor sit­u­a­tions in real time,” Po­lice Chief Ar­mando Perez on Wed­nes­day, stand­ing be­tween two walls of screens dis­play­ing footage from around the city.

Money for the cen­ter came in lay­ers, from var­i­ous fed­eral grants, Perez said. He said he didn’t have an ex­act fig­ure, but es­ti­mated to­tal cost at more than $ 2 mil­lion.

“Soft­ware like this is ex­pen­sive, but what’s the price you put on pub­lic safety?” Grech said.

Search­ing through footage for a sus­pect used to take hours, but can now take min­utes, Grech said. The sys­tem can scan through live and recorded footage for ve­hi­cles or peo­ple — it rec­og­nizes faces. Po­lice can pro­gram a search by the color of a car or a per­son’s shirt.

The depart­ment also has plans to add ShotSpot­ter, a sys­tem that alerts po­lice

any­time shots are fired in Bridge­port. It will be in­te­grated within the city’s cam­eras and Nex­Gen — which al­lows po­lice of­fi­cers, fire­fight­ers and emer­gency per­son­nel to share crit­i­cal in­for­ma­tion with each other.

“It all helps us solve crime and pre­vent crime,” Grech said. “With each new sys­tem or pro­gram, we make Bridge­port a lit­tle bit safer.”

How it works

On Wed­nes­day, a cam­era on New­field Av­enue cap­tured a male lean­ing against a fence, be­hav­ing sus­pi­ciously in an area known for drug trans­ac­tions, Perez said.

The male wasn’t some­one po­lice im­me­di­ately rec­og­nized. He stood alone, con­sis­tently look­ing up and down the street, tak­ing his hands in and out of his pock­ets.

Perez and Capt. Mark Straubel kept an eye on the screen and watched as two oth­ers walked up to the male. Though po­lice weren’t able to con­firm what ex­actly was caught on that cam­era, an of­fi­cer was dis­patched.

“Is there any­one in the area that can drive by?” Straubel asked over the ra­dio. Within a minute, a marked Bridge­port po­lice car drove down the street, at well be­low the posted speed limit.

“We want the peo­ple to know we’re out there, we’re pa­trolling, we see what you’re do­ing,” Perez said.

Op­po­site the wall of scan­ning the en­tire city is a wall of screens de­voted to the city’s schools.

Cam­eras showed kids play­ing in a gym, stu­dents walk­ing down hall­ways and school re­source of­fi­cers pa­trolling cam­puses. Perez said this al­lows po­lice to be on scene quicker when they’re needed, such as in an ac­tive- shooter in­ci­dent.

“We’d be able to get peo­ple re­spond­ing to the scene as soon as it started, be­fore peo­ple even call 911,” he Perez said.

Crit­ics wary

Not ev­ery­one is so en­thu­si­as­tic about the ex­panded sur­veil­lance sys­tem.

Melvin Me­d­ina, the Amer­i­can Civil Lib­er­ties Union’s di­rec­tor of strate­gic ini­tia­tives, said he has con­cerns about the depart­ment not shar­ing in­for­ma­tion about the cen­ter with the pub­lic.

“Peo­ple should get to de­cide what polic­ing looks like,” Me­d­ina said Fri­day.

He said the Bridge­port Po­lice Depart­ment should tell the pub­lic where all the cam­eras in the city are, what soft­ware the cen­ter uses and with what agen­cies it would share in­for­ma­tion — par­tic­u­larly con­cern­ing U. S. Im­mi­gra­tion and Cus­toms En­force­ment.

Perez said the depart­ment would not be shar­ing footage with ICE.

“Peo­ple have ev­ery right to be con­cerned, but I can as­sure you, I would never,” Perez said Fri­day. “The pur­pose of these cam­eras is pub­lic safety only.”

Me­d­ina said those prom­ises mean noth­ing un­til some­thing is put in writ­ing.

“They should re­lease all of the in­for­ma­tion ... and de­velop poli­cies with pub­lic in­put,” he said. “Po­lice should work with City Coun­cil to en­sure that they can’t share in­for­ma­tion ( with other agen­cies). Prom­ises aren’t go­ing to do any­thing; strict poli­cies are.”

“We want to keep kids safe. We want to make sure they can play in the parks or ride their bikes down the street with­out wor­ry­ing about gun­shots.” Lt. Paul Grech

Still evolv­ing

The cen­ter is rel­a­tively new for Bridge­port po­lice, who are still fig­ur­ing out what works and what doesn’t work, Grech said, in­clud­ing how long footage will be stored.

The Bridge­port Po­lice Depart­ment is look­ing at sim­i­lar cen­ters in po­lice de­part­ments in Hart­ford, Chicago, New York City and Philadel­phia to mir­ror poli­cies and strate­gies that are most ef­fec­tive.

“We don’t want to be the guinea pigs,” Grech said. “We hear what al­ready works and doesn’t, and ap­ply that here.”

He said peo­ple shouldn’t be un­com­fort­able about po­lice keep­ing an eye on the city.

“We want to keep kids safe,” Grech said. “We want to make sure they can play in the parks or ride their bikes down the street with­out wor­ry­ing about gun­shots.”

Ned Ger­ard / Hearst Con­necti­cut Me­dia

Bridge­port Po­lice Chief Ar­mando Perez shows off mon­i­tor screens in the new Bridge­port Po­lice Fu­sion Cen­ter, lo­cated in the Mor­ton Govern­ment Cen­ter in Bridge­port.

Ned Ger­ard / Hearst Con­necti­cut Me­dia

The Bridge­port Po­lice Fu­sion Cen­ter, lo­cated in the Mor­ton Govern­ment Cen­ter.

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