By Ron Leir
Anthony De Oliveira had just driven home from a shopping trip. With his arms encumbered with purchases, he forgot to lock his car doors as he went inside. The following morning, the Harrison resident found his car door ajar and realized an intruder had been inside. Luckily, De Oliveira had left no valuables in the car. Then he had a thought: Maybe the two small surveillance cameras he’d posted outside the front entrance of his home had caught the would-be burglar on tape.
And, in fact, as he discovered while rewinding the tape, they had.
A review of the tape with local police showed a man entering the vehicle and, soon after, as he was exiting, hurriedly closing the door by pushing the door window, thereby leaving a clear set of fingerprints. Unfortunately, no arrest record turned up when cops fed the prints into a computerized criminal record base. And they only had the man’s side image.
Still, police had come close to solving a crime with the aid of a resident’s technology.
Taking its cue from De Oliveira, the Harrison Police Department wants to enlist the help of other local property owners willing to offer an extra set of electronic “eyes” to help protect the community.
Police Chief Derek Kearns calls the campaign “Neighborhood E-Watch,” a new application of the old idea of neighbors watching out for each other and reporting suspicious activities to police.
Kearns said the e-watch is an extension of Det. Sgt. Ed Markowski’s efforts in setting up, with Pinnacle Systems, the department’s wireless CCTV system three years ago that saw 24 security cameras posted at various street intersections, the Public Library and Red Bull Arena, which have aided in criminal investigations and have led to several arrests.
“Now,” Markowski said, “we’re asking residents to take a greater role in helping us protect their neighborhoods. Their many private cameras could overwhelmingly contribute to our existing (electronic surveillance) throughout the town.”
So that it can get an inventory of the volume and location of home-based cameras, the Police Department is inviting Harrison residents with such cameras to call the Detective Bureau at 973-483-4100 or visit and give their name, address and phone number, the number of cameras they have, where they’re focused, if they’re recorded and for how long the recordings are saved.
If a crime has been committed in an area where police know cameras are located, and recordings are available, detectives can contact a cameraequipped resident to find out if their equipment was operable at the time of the crime and then arrange to burn a CD or DVD of the recording so that police can use it as an investigative tool, according to Kearns and Markowski.
Having access to such evidence will save detectives time they’d otherwise have to spend canvassing a crime area to find clues and, thereby speed the process of finding a suspect, Markowski said.
A camera registry becomes all the more valuable at a time when municipal police forces are shrinking, Kearns said.
“The days of a cop walking the beat is rapidly becoming a thing of the past,” Kearns said. “When I came on the force in 1989 we had 67 cops; now I’m down to 37. Budgets can’t support larger police departments so we need to utilize technology more and more to supplement our existing personnel.”
Kearns and Markowski said the Police Department cameras have aided in last year’s arrests of a suspect in the robbery of a jewelry store at Cleveland Ave. and Frank E. Rodgers Blvd. and a man who allegedly committed a robbery at Harrison and Davis Aves. In another case, police determined an out-of-town cabbie lied about being robbed after checking the tape from a camera.
In East Orange, Kearns noted, the Police Department is preparing to install a “lightbased intervention system” by which the department’s cameras will be electronically linked to high-powered lights programmed to track suspects trying to flee a crime scene that the cameras are focused on.
Once the homeowner registry is set up and rolling, Kearns said the next step will be developing a comparable registry for local business owners with surveillance cameras and the owners of commercial parking lots that have been victimized by break-ins and thefts.
Since late December, for example, six late-model Honda Civics have been stolen from several lots in the south end of town. All but one were later recovered, intact, parked and abandoned in Newark, Markowski said. Police remain hopeful of cracking this case, he said.
Meanwhile, the department is relying on the public to help make the town safer through technology.
“I’m fully behind the project,” said De Oliveira, a former Harrison school custodian. “All homeowners should invest in this. The equipment is very affordable and easy to install. I realize that police officers can’t sit in front of your house and wait for something to happen but citizens can help them out. I’ve encouraged my neighbors to do it. People have to get more involved. Our police force has shrunk so we have to do our part to help.”