Friday, February 27, 2009

Cameras, More to Occupy Tepper's Basement

Officials are inching closer to having closed circuit television cameras downtown, but many questions remain.

At the City Council’s special meeting on public safety Wednesday, Police Director Martin Hellwig said he wants a 24/7 operation out of the city-owned space in the basement of the former Tepper’s building. Exactly how the cameras will be monitored is still “somewhat flexible” at this time, Hellwig said in answer to Councilman Adrian Mapp’s question. Hellwig said he is looking for “partners” for the venture, possibly the Housing Authority of Plainfield, which has “passive monitoring” of its security cameras.

The camera plan has been discussed for many years, with no resolution on issues such as whether police or civilians should monitor them. Hellwig said he wants police personnel to do the monitoring.

The 17,000-square-foot space was fitted out in 2007 just as a $459,000 federal grant was about to expire. The city took possession of the basement some time ago and officials had pondered possibilities including a downtown camera surveillance center, storage, new City Council chambers or a communications center. The contractor, Solid Rock Construction, built what City Administrator Marc Dashield called “pretty much a vanilla box” in the basement.

On Wednesday, Hellwig said the Police Division’s 911 board might be moved to the space, as well as the Narcotics Bureau, which is currently in rental space on Watchung Avenue across the street from police headquarters. Moving the bureau would save $25,000 to $30,000, Hellwig said. The Community Policing unit, now in rental space on East Front Street, would also be placed in the basement.

No mention was made of the cost of putting offices and equipment in the space, but Hellwig said Public Works Director Jennifer Wenson Maier is creating a “schematic” for the interior.

The basement is one of three condos in the building. There is a 75-apartment residential portion and a separate commercial condo at street level. The city took ownership of the basement space for a token amount, but is liable for condo fees.

Hellwig said he is “project manager” for the conversion of the basement and he will be working with Jacques Howard, the city’s assistant director for community development.

--Bernice Paglia


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