CAMDEN, NJ — Over 200 cameras keep a watchful eye on more than 74,000 residents every day as part of the Camden County Police Department’s ongoing efforts to continue steadily reducing crime in the city. 

In two weeks time, the CCPD says it will begin piloting artificial-intelligence technology to help do something else: anticipate it.

How effective will it be?

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“Ask me in three months,” Camden County Police Chief Joe Wysocki told TAPinto Camden while touring the technology’s command center on Wednesday.

That will be the amount of time the PD said it will test-run the technology.

“We're going to start doing this at the end of the month or early February,” he continued, “where we’re basically looking to leverage artificial intelligence technology and our existing ShotSpotter technology, in order to be more proactive.” 

The Camden police force began deploying ShotSpotter in 2010. The technology utilizes gunshot-sensitive microphones in designated areas throughout the city to detect a shooting within seconds from as close as 3 meters away.

Last year, Camden had 18 shooting homicides and 81 non-fatal shooting incidents. While the number of non-fatal shootings were identical to 2018, shooting homicides decreased by four. 

Two years ago, the Newark, California-based gun detection solutions company acquired HunchLab and related assets from Philadelphia’s Azavea in order to apply risk modeling and AI to their existing ShotSpotter system. 

The result was the ability to forecast when and where crimes are likeliest to happen using historical data and based on “predictive” signifiers such as seasonality, time of day, day of the week, trends in socioeconomic conditions and upcoming events. 

This information was used to create risk analysis data and inform active patrol units by shift.

ShotSpotter was also successful last September in acquiring a patent to enhance the technology that is already able to distinguish, with accuracy and within a minute, whether a loud sound is a gunshot instead of another impulsive sound like fireworks.

“I'm always looking for ways to get better as a department. The status quo is never acceptable,” added Wysocki. “We really look at this type of technology as a force multiplier.”

 The ShotSpotter center brings to mind the deck from Marvel's S.H.I.E.L.D. Although Nick Fury doesn't run the show here, it's Lt. John Kelly — who Chief Wysocki joked reminds him of Maximus from “Gladiator.”

The command center is mostly made up of civilians as part of a contract with information technology company Ozitus International. The only officer usually on deck is Kelly, the watch commander who oversees operations.

“This way we keep officers in the field,” said Camden PD spokesman Dan Keashen.

When asked about residents’ concern when it came to over-surveillance, Wysocki said he has mostly heard positive feedback.

“In some cases people have requested them to be installed in their areas,” Wysocki said.

Code enforcement in the waterfront south

The police chief said a large effort of the Camden County Police Department heading into 2020 is to enforce building codes in the most afflicted areas.

Wysocki, as well as other officers, recently attended a community meeting in the waterfront south sector of the city, as an ongoing effort to speak with residents about such concerns.

“A lot has to do with working to change the culture. Some issues raised were related to vacant houses, trash, broken windows, and lights that didn’t work” said Wysocki.

Code enforcement, while not exactly falling under policing issues, have largely to do with enforcing city codes to establish health and welfare for residents, and its how officers are addressing some of these problems. The partnership with residents also includes identifying slum lords in the community.

The waterfront south was also where the department in the last two months stifled two open-air drug markets — an issue that has long had its grip on Camden.

“I can't arrest my way out of the problem...but I understand that some of these drug markets have been [operating] since the 1980s,” Wysocki noted, explaining that the Camden PD has been able to reduce the number of markets in half since 2013. 

At the time he estimates that over 200 were up and running in the city.

“What I would like to do is to drive them inside, so our narcotics unit can then serve them a search warrant, but it’s hard,” he said. “At the end of the day, there is a national drug problem.”

In addition to participating at meetings, Wysocki has also encouraged vigilant residents to download the STOPit app. 

The application allows residents to anonymously report incidents in their area via a mobile device. 

A video played by an officer at the center on Wednesday afternoon showed a robbery taking place at a Camden home — wherein a tenant ran onto a street in broad daylight shooting a gun toward an assailant. The video was shot by a resident.

Perhaps the biggest issue facing the department, Wysocki emphasized, is the civil service exam — which impacts other departments in the country as well.

The exams are required for those entering particular workforces: foreign service officers, customs, some secretarial and clerical, air traffic control, law enforcement, postal service, and for some entry level government jobs. 

The rigidity of the test, which includes the time frame as examination periods can be years apart, explains the fact that none of the 52 recently-recruited Camden County police officers were from Camden.

Due to the federally-mandated process the Camden PD is forced to choose from a list of officers when hiring — instead of handling that process in-house and prioritizing aspiring officers from Camden.

“As far as tools and resources, I feel I have what I need,” said Wysocki. “But my biggest frustration would be the civil service exams.”

Still, the chief mentioned that aspiring locals can still become a part-time Class 1 or Class 2 officer — the latter of which allows them to work in the field.