HAZLET –The Township Committee has agreed to spend $2.75 million to renovate police headquarters, purchase new SUVs and outfit the police with car and body cameras.
In an interview Wednesday, Police Chief Phillip Meehan said he and his team are eager to start the process on making some long-needed changes at the police station on Middle Road, as well as outfitting his patrol officers with video technology.
“As you can imagine when you talk about the building, and vehicles, and then even this project with in-car video and body cam – these are enormous projects,” said Meehan. “Lots of people here are going to be involved in the process. It’s going to be quite some time. But we’re looking forward to it.”
The renovations and acquisitions are part of the township’s plan to spend $6,225,000 on various capital improvements, of which $5,913,750 would be financed through bonds or notes. The rest will be paid for through grants. About half of the total approved at the August 20 government meeting is allocated for road improvements to Fleetwood Drive and adjacent streets that link Middle Road and Route 35. The rest is for public works projects.
Most of the $2.175 million earmarked for the police station will be spent on business continuity, energy efficiency and compliance, said Meehan.
“In the event we have sustained power outages – God forbid we have something like a Sandy happen again – we want to make sure we can continue to run and provide the level of service that we’re doing.” Making sure the building’s generator is correctly connected to all areas of the building to ensure smooth operation is an example, he said.
The lighting system at the 1970s era building will get a good look-over, among other things. “The building’s very old, so we want to look at energy efficiency and how we can make improvements in those areas, and also save taxpayer money in the long run,” he said.
Meehan said there will be a big effort to bring the building up to code. “There’s inspections that go on in a yearly basis for jail cells. There’s some things to today’s standards that we don’t meet. We’re still in compliance, in reference to being grandfathered, but we want to take a look at updating some of those areas,” he said.
Also included in the ordinance is $575,000 for sports utility vehicles and two varieties of mobile video recorders, to be installed in police patrol cars and to be worn by police officers to record interactions.
The police department typically requests the replacement of five SUVs every year, due to the excessive wear and tear they sustain as they are driven around-the-clock on patrol, Meehan said. But since 2017, they’ve only received three due to budget constraints. The department will spec out offerings from different car makers to choose replacements, the number of which has not yet been determined.
As for mobile cameras, the chief called their acquisition “very important,” saying Hazlet is one of the few agencies in Monmouth County that doesn’t have them.
“It provides a great resource for investigative tools, obviously. You have live footage of things that are taking place when officers arrive,” he said.
The cameras are helpful to officer development, allowing supervisors to review data on how officers reacted to situations.
They also are in alignment to the department’s goals, especially as an agency accredited by New Jersey State Association of Chiefs of Police. “It’s just another layer of providing trust and confidence to the community,” said Meehan. Body cameras indicate “there is nothing to hide here, we’re transparent, as we always have been in Hazlet Township.”
No decision has been made on how the department will be outfitted with cameras, but Meehan envisions all front-line patrol vehicles will have in-car cameras, and at the least, patrol officers will have body cameras. An in-house policy that complies with Attorney General regulations will be discussed and drafted, he said.