Camden in line for police body cameras, extension of gunshot surveillance system

 Patrolman Larry Cox said the ShotSpotter can identify the location of a  gunshot. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Patrolman Larry Cox said the ShotSpotter can identify the location of a gunshot. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

The Camden County Freeholder Board will vote Thursday on a pair of measures aimed at making the City of Camden safer.

The county’s police department, which has been testing body cameras for well over a year, now wants to buy 325 of the devices so that every officer patrolling the street is equipped.

For Capt. Greg Carlin, it’s about strengthening community-police relations, a cornerstone of the department’s philosophy.

“The community already knows that we’re approaching and engaging them every day. The fact that we’ll have a camera on will give them a little more assurance and a little more comfort when being around an officer,” he said.

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How officers will use the cameras in the field remains unclear. In the coming weeks, the New Jersey attorney general’s office will hand the department its recommendations, including whether the default should be for the cameras to be on or off.

“That’s the $64,000 question,” said Chief Scott Thomson. “We’ll be more restrictive, but we won’t be more liberal [than the recommendations].”

The department also wants to buy more than 70 gunshot-sensitive microphones to extend its ShotSpotter program over the entire city.

The audio surveillance program automatically reports gunfire and its precise location to police through a network of the outdoor microphones.

The hidden devices will be seamlessly linked to the city’s “Eye in the Sky” video surveillance cameras, which provide panoramic, 360-degree views.

“They have analytics within the camera system that know, ‘All right, the shot was fired here, here’s where the camera has to turn,'” said Carlin.

ShotSpotter has helped reduce gunfire in Camden by almost half over the past year, according to police.

Together, the measures will cost the county nearly $1 million over the next three years. The freeholders are expected to approve both requests.

“We’re going to continue to make Camden a safer city any way that we can,” said Freehold Director Louis Cappelli Jr.

In 2012, Camden set a record for murders.

A year later, the Camden city police department became county run and adopted a more hands-on approach to serving the struggling community.

As of this spring, violent crime is down 36 percent compared with 2012 – and the murder rate has dropped by half.

During a visit to Camden last month, President Barack Obama held up the county police department’s focus on community policing as a “symbol of promise for the nation.”

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