By Ron Leir
It’s not your father’s police station anymore.
Lot of visitors to Harrison Police Headquarters are doing double-takes these days.
For years, folks were used to walking through the Cleveland Ave. entrance, turning left and coming up against an ominous barrier wall with a glass window where a police dispatcher could peer down on you and ask what you wanted.
If you needed an accident report or the like, you did an about-face and saw another wall and small window where you’d ask the keeper of the records for the desired document for a detective.
But now, the dispatcher’s room is empty – that imposing wall will be coming down soon in favor of a more publicfriendly setting. And when you turn to the old record room, there’s a big (secured) glass window giving you an eye-level view of the recently renovated interior.
It’s almost like going to the movies. Mounted on the facing wall are three rows of 42-inch computer monitors – four in each row – projecting real-time images of what’s happening at different places around town.
Those electronic pictures are coming from closed circuit TV surveillance cameras strategically positioned atop utility poles at 24 exterior locations and from 11 additional cameras at interior locations, according to Police Chief Derek Kearns.
“And more are coming,” Kearns said. “We’ll be getting four more under Rt. 280 off Hamilton St., one for our police yard and another inside the Police Department.”
The town’s main intersections along Frank E. Rodgers Blvd. North and South and on Harrison Ave., east and west, along with the Red Bull Arena are all covered by the camera system, according to the chief.
“Probably half the town is under surveillance,” he said.
And the room has extra wall space where more screens can be accommodated in future, Kearns said.
“We’re working on getting a live feed for the Harrison Housing Authority complex,” Kearns said. “Right now, our detectives can go on a laptop to get a feed but, in future, we want to be able to capture those images right here in our new communications center.”
Harrison High School and Washington Middle School are both equipped with CCTV units, Kearns said. “We’re hoping to get a live feed for those schools as well.”
And, if the governing bodies of Harrison and East Newark can agree on it, Kearns said the HPD “can purchase an encoder” to monitor the images that East Newark’s CCTV police cameras – which were installed during the 1970s – are picking up.
Among the places inside Town Hall where cameras are trained are: the prisoners’ cell area, the police evidence room, the first-floor lobby, the basement construction office entrance and the third-floor registrar’s office.
Live video footage can be used to assist police in pursuing a suspect in a criminal investigation or, after a crime or accident has taken place, detectives can review the video log to try to glean some evidence or clues to solve a case, Kearns said.
Some three weeks ago, a camera focused on the intersection of Bergen St. and Frank E. Rodgers Blvd. South captured the image of a vehicle that struck a pedestrian, helping to lead police to the driver.
Operating desk computers, dispatchers can access special radio frequencies to communicate with State Police, East Newark P.D. and the borough’s Volunteer Fire Department, Harrison Fire Department, local schools and Red Bull security. And any or all of those entities can be patched together to talk to each other.
Harrison and East Newark police units and fire companies, along with EMS, are dispatched via the HPD communications center.
Dispatchers maintain an electronic log of all jobs responded to and the ultimate disposition of those jobs, available for review as needed. Seven civilians work full-time 10-hour shifts on an around-the-clock rotation.
“It’s all being done to ensure safety,” Kearns said. “If a crime has been committed, we want to make sure the person who committed the crime is held accountable and, with the video, we can take a look to see why this happened. It’s extremely helpful to our investigators.”
The old dispatch room, meanwhile, will be transformed into a “waiting area” where the public can use a bathroom while waiting to go to municipal court. Or they can ask a dispatcher for an application for a resident parking permit, or a case number for an accident report, for example, “where we don’t have to take a cop off the street,” Kearns said.
The entrance to headquarters is being reconfigured with an intercom system that the public will be asked to use during late night and early morning hours. A camera will enable dispatchers to see who’s there. Town employees will be given a card key to enter.
The 35 cameras now in operation were installed by Pinnacle Wireless of Fair Lawn, beginning some three years ago with a single unit in the department’s interrogation room on the recommendation of the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office.
All equipment was purchased with the aid of grants from the U.S. Department of Justice.
Kearns credited Det. Sgt. Ed Markowski and the town’s information technology coordinator Kunal Mehta with designing and integrating the new communications setup.