By KATIE MOEN
For The Westfield Leader
WESTFIELD — The Westfield Police Department will soon have a few more eyes on the street thanks to recently-adopted town resolutions that aim to bring new body cameras and technology to the department.
“I am very appreciative to the mayor and council for accommodating this request,” said Westfield Chief of Police Christopher Battiloro, speaking at Tuesday’s regular meeting of the mayor and council. “This is the latest technology. There is a serious backlog in the ability to deliver this equipment, so allowing us to contract now gets us in the queue to make sure that we will be able to start using these cameras sooner rather than later.”
The council voted yes on two resolutions during Tuesday night’s meeting in order to make the acquisition possible — one which allowed for the insertion of a special item of revenue in the municipal budget (the body-worn cameras) and another which awards the contract for the equipment to the department.
Under the terms of the adopted resolutions, each Westfield officer will soon be outfitted with his or her own body camera as per a New Jersey state law that went into effect earlier this year. The department’s fleet of police cruisers also will see significant upgrades to its mobile video recording (MVR) system, Chief Battiloro said, noting that the body cameras and the MVRs will work together to ensure safe and responsible traffic stops and other public interactions going forward.
Sixteen police vehicles also will be outfitted with automatic license-plate recognition capability.
“We will be using this technology to help find stolen cars, unregistered cars…basically any type of hits that might come out,” said Chief Battiloro. The scanners will be running license plates and automatically cross checking that information against local, state and federal databases, including the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission, New Jersey Wanted Person and the FBI’s National Crime Information Center.
The new technology, Chief Battiloro said, will hopefully give his officers a better chance to locate and recover stolen vehicles and prevent other types of crime in the area.
The equipment is being purchased as part of a five-year agreement with manufacturers Axon Enterprises to the tune of $658,216.88. The arrangement replaces an existing contract with the same company for equipment purchased in 2019.
The first year’s worth of payments, totaling $101,067.38, has already been financed thanks to state grant funding awarded by the Office of the Attorney General specifically for this purpose.
“We’re also bringing $48,000 in asset forfeiture monies to the table to help make this happen this year rather than waiting for our normal budget year,” Chief Battiloro said. “This allows us to get a head start on our budget for 2022 and gets us in line to receive this equipment sooner rather than later.”
The public-comment portion of the meeting reflected mounting tensions surrounding senior housing in Westfield, as Mayor Shelley Brindle and the town council struggle to reconcile roughly $2.6 million in payment disputes against the lingering concerns of its senior population.
“I can’t reiterate enough that there is no issue of uncertainty for the seniors that live in senior housing. The notion that they are in any jeopardy is categorically false,” Mayor Brindle said Tuesday night. “This is strictly a dispute between the board of trustees and the town that should never, ever, ever have involved the residents of that community. It has been incredibly unfortunate that the trustees chose to bring them in as pawns.”
As previously reported in The Westfield Leader, the town served a notice of default to Westfield Senior Citizens Housing Corporation (WSCHC) last month for non-payment of rent of the land. According to the documentation provided, the town is seeking back payments of $2.23 million for 1129 Boynton and $407,926 for 1133 Boynton.
Barbara Blanco, a member of the WSCHC, said Tuesday that the accusations of debt made by the town are “categorically untrue.”
“The town is making accusations against our board of trustees which allude to the mismanagement of funds,” said Ms. Blanco. “These intentionally misleading statements are being circulated and distributed as fact despite knowledge that they are untrue.”
Regardless of the outcome of the pending financial dispute between the two entities, Mayor Brindle said Tuesday that the board has thus far not handled the situation well in regards to its residents.
“We held a meeting here two weeks ago for many of the residents of senior housing so we could set the record straight,” Mayor Brindle said. “[The board] actually had someone show up here dressed in a Grinch costume in order to disrupt that meeting. It just showed that they are not taking these proceedings seriously.”
Mayor Brindle said the stunt showed “a blatant level of disrespect” for those seniors who chose to attend the meeting.
“I have been shocked and disappointed by the recent actions of Mayor Brindle and the town council,” Ms. Blanco said. “Rather than do right by the people of Westfield, including over 300 seniors who live in the buildings that Westfield Senior manages, the mayor and town council are seeking to use this information to politicize an issue that boils down to caring about people.”
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