The Jurassic Park effect

What happens to law enforcement if high-tech security systems fail?


     When a residential community contains multi-million-dollar homes owned by celebrities and well-heeled corporate executives, security challenges rise exponentially. Dennis Weiner is chief of police in one such locale — the village of Centre Island, located on the northern shore of Long Island in New York — and he says security and access control are the paramount concerns of his department. After all, among the posh estates situated within CIPD jurisdiction are properties owned by singer-songwriter Billy Joel, media mogul Rupert Murdoch, and the heads of a number of nationally known companies.

     Centre Island's affluence extends to its police department, so the department Weiner manages is well-funded, well-staffed and well-equipped. He oversees a sophisticated, high-tech surveillance system, for example, that includes state-of-the-art mobile records management software. In addition, CIPD has developed unique deployment methods for some common — and not-so-common — technology to take advantage of the village's small size and maximize the security-friendly features of its geography.

Too tech-savvy?

     Few will debate the benefits and convenience of applying high-tech solutions to problems posed by security challenges such as those in Centre Island. But experts caution that a high-tech solution shouldn't be the only solution, especially when it comes to security and access control.

     Hark back to the 1993 cultural message conveyed by Michael Crichton and Steven Spielberg: When the technology to regulate and monitor the beasts in "Jurassic Park" fails, it's (albeit science-fictional) mayhem.

     Is there risk of the fiction becoming truth in tech-savvy policing?

     Not really, says Weiner, adding that an unexpected malfunction of a CIPD-employed technology would not cripple his agency. It would affect his officers' speed and efficiency, he notes, but safety would still be maintained, and the public would most certainly not be left unprotected. Redundancies built into CIPD's technology provide backup and the department has structured its programs to include a combination of state-of-the-art technology and best-practices law enforcement management.

Bling bling

     Centre Island is a village of 444 people, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Its police department employs nine officers and works with an annual operating budget of $1.6 million.

     With a budget of that magnitude for its small community, it may seem the CIPD would have endless financial resources.

     However, Weiner points out that although some community members' resources may be large, the department spends cautiously and operates to protect and serve in the same way another district of more modest means or with less-famous residents would. "Honestly we are working under very restrictive budgeting criteria," Weiner says. "Although the department serves a wealthy community, it is very cost-conscious, and where it would seem that the village government would have unlimited resources, that's not the case." Nevertheless, CIPD has been able to add to its arsenal such items as night vision binoculars, a license plate reader and camera, a mobile records management system, and digital cameras and scanners equipped with Bluetooth technology.

One way in, one way out

     To get to Centre Island, travelers must take a causeway from peninsular Bayville, New York. Once they travel the approximately 700-foot isthmus into the village, they come face to face with the police station.

     CIPD Sgt. Alex Arnold, a 14-year veteran of the department, says the station's placement makes newcomers aware that their presence is known and noted. "We're no more than 6 feet off the road," Arnold says. "So just coming in, you've got to drive right by the police station. Having the police station, the police cars and officers in and out, you have [a law enforcement] presence right there before you come into the island. I think that's a great, unique feature that we have."

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