LINDEN, NJ — An overhaul of security cameras throughout the city of Linden is causing a dispute between two members of the Linden city council.
The initiative, spearheaded by city of Linden Councilman Peter Brown and started in 2015, calls for a replacement of all security cameras already in place throughout the city, as well as future installation of new cameras at various locations throughout the city.
The cameras are just one part of a multi-pronged approach to fighting and deterring crime in the city, according to Brown.
The Linden Police Department will have access to all cameras, and video footage will be saved for 90 days.
Brown told LocalSource that the multiphase security camera initiative is something that will help deter crime.
“It’s like a virtual neighborhood watch,” Brown said in a recent phone interview. “We’ve had cars broken into at the train station. The cameras are there now, and you’re going to be caught.”
According to Brown, the first phase of the project is soon to be finalized.
“We want to finalize stage one,” Brown said. “We’ll be replacing all municipal cameras,” he said, noting that locations include Linden’s public library, train station, police station, among others. “We’ll be putting in more cameras at parks and other strategic locations.”
But city of Linden Councilwoman, Rhashonna Cosby-Hurling, is taking issue with the lack of cameras in the 5th ward, the ward that she presides over.
Cosby-Hurling told LocalSource that there is increased crime in the 5th ward, and that a recent shooting in the Chandler Avenue area has made residents anxious. Furthermore, Cosby-Hurling believes that had cameras been put in the neighborhood when she had requested them in 2015, the shooting may have been avoided altogether.
“My neighbors and I are not pleased with the recent and ongoing instances of gun violence that is played out in the streets as if this is the Wild West,” Cosby-Hurling said in a March 2 email, noting that she believes that the police are progressing in the Middlesex Street shooting investigation.
“What has me upset is the shooting this past week may have been avoidable if my request for public cameras had been given serious consideration and attention in 2015 when the council embarked on a journey to upgrade and install cameras in public areas,” Cosby-Hurling said.
According to Cosby-Hurling, the council selected a vendor in 2015 to install cameras in areas that were considered to be a priority, yet the Chandler Avenue area — the neighborhood for which she requested cameras — was never added to the list for Phase I or Phase II of the project.
“We should not play political games with our communities’ safety,” Cosby-Hurling said. “In August and September of 2016, cameras were ordered and installed at the request of one member of the council without a review of the committee or full governing body because it was election time. There was no gun violence reported at Dobson Park but there was in the Chandler Avenue area. There were meetings held and yet my request for cameras on public streets in known areas of violent crimes was ignored. Will the request continue to be ignored?”
Cosby-Hurling also maintains that security cameras at the library and parks could have waited until the second phase of the project, an opinion which she said is based on the number of crimes in those areas compared to the much higher rate of reported incidents in the Chandler Avenue area.
But according to Brown, who is also on the finance and budget committees, security cameras are just a very small part of a larger picture, and stated that Cosby-Hurling has not been working with the mayor or council toward a common goal of reducing crime.
“How to reduce crime is by working with the police chief, the police, the mayor and the council,” Brown said. “The cameras would not have stopped the shooting. We can’t say that it would. She’s too busy doing other things that are counterproductive. It’s a complex issue that I don’t even think she’s aware of,” Brown said of the councilwoman.
According to Brown, Linden Police Chief Jonathan Parham has been holding community meetings and the department has been reaching out to residents on social media to initiate a dialogue.
Other initiatives, said Brown, include a recently transformed fleet of police cars, applying for grants in order to hire more police officers, and the possibility of a new or revamped police headquarters.
“The police department has been doing a great job with their limited resources,” Brown said. “It’s her way rather than working with other people. I don’t think she sees the bigger picture. She doesn’t work with the mayor. She’s running counter to what we’re saying. This is the propaganda and falseness that she puts out there.”
According to Brown, cameras were installed at Dobson Park because it is next to the Police Athletic League building.
“I have been involved in this with the mayor,” Brown said. “She has not been,” he said of Cosby-Hurling. “She hasn’t come to the table to address the issues.”
But Cosby-Hurling wants to know how much more crime needs to take place in
her ward before her request for a camera is granted.
“How much more damage to property will my neighbors have to endure?” she asked. “Must someone be shot and or killed before the powers-that-be do what they know is right? Install the cameras now. The residents in this particular area do not have exterior cameras in their homes. The businesses in the area do not have cameras. For the safety of all the residents, the city should have installed cameras when the project was started. Church vandalism, attempted break-ins, theft of property and yes, violent crimes, should have warranted this area as being a priority for cameras.”
Cosby-Hurling is also taking issue that she was not informed of the Middlesex Street shooting.
“I was not pleased that I was not informed of the incident by the police department when it occurred,” Cosby-Hurling said. “I learned from a neighbor the next day when he called to ask if anyone was killed. I was disappointed and angry at the delay in any information that was provided to me when I asked about it. I was made to wait for a press release and that was all the information I was given.”
According to Cosby-Hurling, council members have been given a directive by Linden Mayor Derek Armstead in the past regarding members of council not being allowed to contact the chief of police.
“We as council members must have some form of communication with our law enforcement,” she said. “If I am left out of the communication loop, how I can accurately inform my community in times such as this? Community policing will only work when we all work together.”
Armstead did not respond to LocalSource’s request for comment as of press time.
Cosby-Hurling said that she will be demanding that the council revisit a public safety commission ordinance that she proposed many years ago that was reintroduced in 2016 but ultimately shelved by the council majority.
“We need to stop playing politics and get the decision-makers in a room with the stakeholders from the community and have the long overdue conversations about public safety,” she said.