PD has 1,200 eyes on city
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.
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
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.”
Bridgeport Police Chief Armando Perez shows off monitor screens in the new Bridgeport Police Fusion Center, located in the Morton Government Center in Bridgeport.
The Bridgeport Police Fusion Center, located in the Morton Government Center.