Jersey City’s 911 system was in the spotlight along with a new police precinct, cannabis licenses and Liberty Humane Society, at Monday’s caucus of the Jersey City Municipal Council.
Council members quizzed city Public Safety Director James Shea on a proposal to enter into a state contract with Software House International, of Somerset, and subcontractor IXP Corp., of Princeton, for $213,085 to conduct employee workshops, technology assessment, and “gap analysis services” related to the city’s 911 emergency communications system.
The council is due to vote on the contract at Wednesday night’s meeting.
The city’s 911 system has been the object of widespread criticism. In February, one resident told the council how her call to the city’s 911 operators went unacknowledged for seven minutes.
This would be the second contract given to IXP related to the 911 system. In 2018, Shea entered into a $38,000 contract with the firm for work reviewing the system. The contract was questioned because the son of the late New York City police commissioner, Howard Safir, who led the search resulting in Shea’s 2013 hiring, worked for IXP.
“We know we have gaps, shortfalls to our citizens,” Shea said, “and we’re getting an independent person who has no loyalty to anybody in telling us why we’re falling short.”
Shea added that for the past decade, under four different “very competent” directors, “the same problems have persisted, which is a detriment to our citizens.”
Shea said it’s even more critical now to learn how to improve the system because “we’re moving (the operation) to our new Public Safety building next year.”
Shea said that all facets of the communications operation—technology, staffing and possibly a switch to a privatized operation—would be examined by the outside consultants.
He also said that at this point, the city would prefer to own the technology so it could to run it itself.
If the consultants recommended increasing the number of personnel assigned to the 911 system and/or raising the salaries of dispatch center employees, Shea said the council would have to approve such moves before they could be implemented.
Asked by council members when the study would be completed, Shea he was “loathe to tell them a timeline” and thereby possibly disrupt a thorough review, but he said he hoped it could conclude before the opening of the new Public Safety building in the city’s Hub section on Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard.
Council President Joyce Watterman welcomed the city’s commitment to fixing the 911 system, saying, “The 911 time response is horrible.”
Shea also fielded queries from the council about a proposal to bond close to $12 million for the construction of a new two-level police station at 315 15th St., the site of a new residential high-rise development, to replace the existing East District Police Station at 207 Seventh St.
Under terms of a redevelopment agreement, Manhattan Buildings, the owner of the residential complex, is giving the city the use of 22,920 square feet spread over two floors in the complex to retrofit for police use, along with off-street parking spaces.
The bond is needed for $10,758,000 in construction trade union costs plus $1,116,572 for professional fees associated with the project.
Expenses for design, materials and installation of telecommunications equipment, furnishings, technology, audio-visual devices, and security are yet to be calculated.
Shea said the first floor will be dedicated to East District operations while the second floor will be used for citywide investigations units and will include a separate entrance from a closed garage for the processing of criminal suspects, a unit that will allow for easier interaction of detectives and “special victims.”
Ward C Councilmember Richard Boggiano griped that the proposed new precinct is wrongly positioned. “You’re making the mayor of Hoboken very happy,” he said. “This does not belong on 15th Street,” he said, arguing that it should more centrally located within the Downtown ward it’s intended to serve. Shea replied that the new precinct won’t be answering police calls for Hoboken. He said the East District “is ageing out” of its current building and that “a huge community is growing up on the other side of the (Holland) Tunnel” that needs to be serviced. “We may have to up the number of cars” assigned to the district, he added.
Several council members questioned a proposed law change, up for adoption tonight night, that would cap at 55 the number of Class 5 retail licenses issued by the city (with state approval). Currently, the city has sanctioned 27 applications for cannabis businesses.
Ward F Councilmember Frank Gilmore said part of the reasoning that led to the state’s legalizing such enterprises was to create entrepreneurship opportunities for Black and Brown residents of whom a disproportionate number have been charged with marijuana-related crimes.
Yet, he noted, “I see that no applications we’ve received have been approved for Ward F,” thereby offering “no economic help” to the ward’s largely minority residents. He asked if there was some way to amend the city’s existing ordinance to help equalize the distribution of licenses among all the city’s wards.
City Business Administrator John Metro responded that the state law speaks to affording opportunities for “diverse” applications but is silent as to location. “At the end of the day, it’s the private business person who dictates the location,” he said. He did add, however, that there are two applications with prospective locations in Ward F now pending.
Several council members expressed concern that, given the competitiveness of the market, landlords would attempt to gouge retail cannabis tenants.
Indeed, Watterman said, some Black and Brown members of the community are “already priced out.”
Metro suggested that the council consider capping the total licenses at 55 and concentrating on efforts to pitch potential applicants for the remaining licenses to open spots in in Ward F. As a marketing tool, the city is considering setting up small-business incubators designed to promote cannabis enterprises.
On Wednesday, the council will vote whether to support an application by Cream Dispensary to operate a cannabis retail license from 284 First St. The applicant has pledged to donate $5,000 from its revenues to the Jersey City Police Athletic League and an additional $5,000 to the Whole Spectrum Autism Foundation of Jersey City.
Some controversy was generated by a proposed two-year extension of the city’s animal control contract to the Liberty Humane Society, operating from 235 Jersey City Blvd., the only vendor that submitted a bid proposal. The first-year renewal would cost $692,000 and the second year $719,950.
Councilmembers Boggiano and Gilmore questioned the group’s quality of service something that has recently been in the news. “They’re almost never open,” Gilmore said. And Boggiano added: “Since Covid, they’ve had limited hours.” And each mentioned at least one case where an agent of the vendor allegedly refused to accept an injured dog for care. (City Health Officer Paul Bellan-Boyer confirmed that unless an owner is identified, it’s the responsibility of the city’s animal control service to handle an injured animal.)
In an Oct. 13 interdepartmental memo Bellan-Boyer sent to the city’s B.A. and to its purchasing agent, he listed several operational issues involving responses to calls for help and working with local and county law enforcement on requests for aid with emergency animal issues, among other things.
Asked if the city had explored other possible service providers, Bellan-Boyer told the council, “There are not many potential vendors to provide animal control service to a city of this size.” As for the cost, Bellan-Boyer termed the price “a reasonable amount” but added that the city expects to get good service, “and we’re looking to have the vendor do a better job.”
The council agreed to table a proposed application to the state Urban Enterprise Zone Authority for $100,000 to issue individual grants of up to $1,000 “to qualified individuals (keyed to income guidelines) to purchase bikes from UEZ-certified bike shops located in Jersey City.”