By Ron Leir
Big Brother is watching you in Kearny … from the sky and from the ground.
For added security, the town has installed 11 additional surveillance cameras on Public Service utility poles around town, and the Police Department monitors the traffic in real time on computer screens at headquarters linked to the cameras by Verizon Wireless.
Of the 11, five are specialized units, known as LPRs (License Plate Readers), positioned at various entry points to Kearny and programmed to watch for vehicles with suspended or expired licenses or registrations or reported stolen.
The Police Department also uses the LPRs and computers – linked to federal and state databases – in several of its patrol units to check for vehicles that shouldn’t be on the road. Distinct tones alert officers when the LPR fixes on a “bad” plate.
Three camera units are mounted on the patrol car’s roof; two are tilted at a 45- degree angle to scan traffic in each direction; and the third, on the passenger side, checks cars parked curbside or in driveways and alleyways.
So sensitive is the camera’s infra-red lens, Officer John Fabula discovered recently, that it can “read” a plate on the opposite side of a highway median concrete barrier.
“My first day out with the LPR,” said Gouveia, “on Monday, April 22, I had 55 hits (all on parked cars), mostly for suspended or expired license or registration and most of those had been expired for as long as two years.”
Police Chief John Dowie said the new electronic gadgets will be useful in helping rid local streets of abandoned vehicles. “We’ve got a big problem with parking in this town so here’s a tool to get junked cars off the street.”
And, Dowie said, “we’ll also be recovering cars stolen from another jurisdiction and dumped here in Kearny, some possibly after being used in a crime.”
That’s why, for example, some of the new “pan/tilt/ zoom” cameras have been installed at the intersections of Johnston and Kearny Aves., Bergen and Schuyler Aves., the Belleville Pike and Passaic Ave., Schuyler Ave. and Belleville Pike, and Johnston and Passaic Aves., all of which serve as Kearny access/exit points.
“The camera system and LPRs are coming together at a good time,” Dowie said. “The thinking is we can use them as a very good investigative tool – not as a replacement for cops – to catch the guys who come here from out of town to commit crimes.”
Just as law enforcement agents used video garnered from surveillance cameras in Boston to track the suspects in the Boston Marathon bombing case, police here can review the tapes from Kearny’s cameras to reconstruct a criminal suspect’s path through town, along with information on the vehicle he or she was driving at the time, Dowie said.
One thing the cameras won’t be used for, Dowie stressed, is to check for vehicles going through red lights – a strategy some neighboring communities have resorted to – both as a safety move, in an effort to stop motorists from trying to “beat the light” – and as a local revenue enhancer by collecting fines from offenders.
The new camera units were purchased from and installed during a few months by EarthCam of Hackensack at a cost of $85,000, according to Municipal Administrator Michael Martello. The money was drawn from the town’s capital funding account, he said.
Martello said the other locations where the balance of the cameras have been positioned are: Tappan St. and Davis Ave. (near the Tappan St. Playground), Dukes St. and Schuyler Ave. (near the entrance to West Hudson Park), Grant Ave. and Johnston Ave. (near the Miglin Playground), Central Ave. (near the Kearny Municipal Utilities Authority facility), Hamilton, W. Bennett and Jefferson Aves. (near Manor Park), and Kearny Ave. and Belleville Pike.
Martello said the new cameras supplement 30 previously installed at other points around town in the last six years, plus 96 scattered through the industrial section of South Kearny which were funded by a U.S. Homeland Security grant during 2006- 2007.