High-tech upgrades part of police HQ makeover
New leader hopes to phase in changes
Posted by the Asbury Park Press on 01/20/06BY RICHARD QUINNTOMS RIVER BUREAU
LAKEWOOD — A police report shows five patrol cars pulled up to the basketball court next to the Lakewood Community Center one Saturday night in June, all responding to a single call about a clash of boys wanting to play basketball.
The incident sparked tensions — which turned into accusations of ethnic favoritism — because the cops asked a group of minority boys to leave after a group of Orthodox Jewish boys showed they had a permit for the court.
Peters said the police overreaction could have been avoided, and now he's proposing a way to do it.
Having assumed the department's top post last summer, Peters has introduced a series of physical and technological changes to the department. The total cost could be more than $1 million but could be phased in.
Updating a host of software programs, including dispatch, records management, officer accountability and Internal Affairs.
Which ideas are implemented and when may depend on a consultant's report, expected around month's end, that will give the department a strategic plan for technology upgrades.
"Bottom line here is to take the department up to the level of best practices," Peters said. "I don't do anything halfway. If I'm going to do it, I'm going to do it all the way."
Peters said he also hopes the initiatives will prove to an often skeptical public — which in recent years has witnessed a police brutality trial that ended with acquittals, abuse-of-power allegations and a recent investigation into ticket-fixing that found no criminal wrongdoing — that the department is working to better itself.
"I would hope that's how they see it," Peters said this week. "We're using every means available to us to address the concerns."
Taxes are a concern
Word of the new ideas drew cautious praise from residents.
"If it will help, good. The only thing I am afraid of is: Will it cost the taxpayer more money?" asked Adrienne Neal, 44, a recreation aide at Lakewood Community Center. "We have enough problems with property taxes."
Sam DeCapua, a township resident who repairs and installs telecommunications equipment, said he also worries about taxes but supports using updated technology to help the department better protect the town.
"Take back the town from the thugs," said DeCapua, 42, who would support the improvements if they could be paid for without local tax money. "At least they're showing they want to get something done."
Peters said it's too early to know how the plans would be funded. He said he will seek grants, possibly from Homeland Security programs, to offset the costs.
Deputy Mayor Raymond G. Coles said the ambitious plans are the kinds of reform the committee expected when it hired Peters, a retired State Police major who told Coles the technology will help determine proper staffing levels.
"When he tells me I need to look at things, study it and make evaluations, I believe the result of that is something we can take to the bank," Coles said.
"Reverse 911" system
The results, if Peters implements all of his plans, should improve the force.
The new dispatch and records systems, for example, would allow Peters to study how different officers respond to nearly identical calls.
The new Internal Affairs software would make it easier for supervisors to determine if certain officers have more problems than others, although resident Yehuda Shain continues to push for a civilian review board to handle internal investigations.
"(Civilians) know how to look at a case," Shain said, adding he has no confidence in the department objectively investigating its own officers. "They can look at the issue without any cover-up and say, "Who was wrong on this case?' "
A new "Reverse 911" system — which already has been approved and will be installed in the next six months — will be able to notify residents of emergencies and other events.
Lt. William Addison, a 34-year officer in Lakewood, said the new ideas, if implemented, would mark a return to prominence for Lakewood, which he said was once respected for its use of technology.
"We've lost that over the years, for whatever reason," Addison said. "We're getting back to that now. We're going to be No. 1 again."
Richard Quinn: (732) 557-5739 or firstname.lastname@example.org