The Jefferson Township police department is looking to purchase and install two mobile cameras in township parks to combat vandalism, as well as drug use and abuse, among teens.
Police Sgt. Paul Castimore, during the council’s budget meeting Wednesday, explained that the cameras, which he said would ideally be placed by Lake Hopatcong and the Milton section of town, are a response to problems the department has been experiencing at Chamberlain Field.
“Parents are calling us, saying cars are coming up, beeping their horns and kids are coming out of the woods,” Castimore said. “They see a hand-to-hand transaction, the kid runs away and the car drives away. This goes on in the two-hour window after school.”
He said that officers have gone into the woods during school hours and found drug paraphernalia, such as baggies and needles.
The wireless cameras, which would be purchased from SecureWatch 24, would transmit over the cellular network and could be viewed by officers on a variety of platforms, from desk computers to their smart phones. Based on a demonstration the company did for the department, Castimore said the camera has high resolution and would allow officers to identify troublemakers.
Council President Richard Yocum said he likes the proposal because vandalism of schools and recreational facilities “ticks me off to no end.” However, he said the township should be careful about technology like this that could make the department seem like “Big Brother,” referring to the fictional literary character often associated with mass surveillance.
As a result, Yocum said he would like to see a list of what exactly the department would and would not be using the cameras for.
Police Chief Kevin Craig said he will check with the Morris County prosecutor’s office to find out what legal restrictions exist in terms of surveillance.
“I know there are issues if sound is involved, like with wire tapping,” Craig said. “I can research that with the prosecutor’s office, get some model policies to make sure we’re in compliance with all the legalities and move forward.”
In addition to helping officers identify problematic activity, Craig said the cameras should help with both deterring criminal behavior and enforcement.
Since the cameras would be mobile, Councilman Robert Birmingham suggested also looking into place-keeping blank boxes to deter negative behavior from people who believe they are being monitored. Castimore said he will get quotes for the blank boxes.
The combined cost for the two cameras is currently listed in the budget at $22,000 but could increase based on the quote Castimore receives for the blank boxes.