Expanded Video Surveillance Planned for Mall, Schools in N.J.

PARAMUS, N.J. (AP) - A pilot program that uses advanced surveillance cameras to provide heightened security at shopping malls will be tested this year at one of New Jersey's largest malls, state and local officials announced Thursday.

Garden State Plaza will be the site of the ``Model Mall'' project, the first to bring together experts from the New Jersey Institute of Technology, designated the state's technology center for homeland security systems, and state and local law enforcement organizations.

The project is expected to cost about $1 million, and will be funded by a combination of state and federal grants, officials said.

Instead of using a bank of video monitors as previous systems have done, the new cameras in the mall will transmit images to a computer that can pick out which ones might warrant intervention, such as an unattended package or an unscheduled delivery truck, according to Donald Sebastian, senior vice president for research and development at NJIT.

"The computer can be looking at things frame by frame using advanced pattern recognition capabilities to understand whether something's worth looking at,'' he said. ``It may be that it ends there because the operator of local security could see it's a kid's toy or a coffee cup. But it may be something that's sufficiently questionable _ say, a brown bag _ that you might want to have the police in Paramus immediately keyed in.''

A similar system is being considered for use in New Jersey schools. The town of Paramus has already installed video surveillance cameras at a high school and two middle schools, and will incorporate some of the new technology that is being used in the mall security system, according to Mayor Richard Tedesco.

Acting Gov. Richard J. Codey praised the uniqueness of the programs and used the occasion to continue his campaign to restore cuts in New Jersey's federal homeland security funding.

"This will create a security model that doesn't exist anywhere else,'' he said. ``It will be a model that can be used for malls, schools or virtually any critical site. It will show how New Jersey is really using our federal dollars to improve security. When our funding is cut, efforts like these get postponed or may be eliminated.''

State lawmakers on Thursday released a measure demanding that the federal government restore those funds to New Jersey's two largest cities. Jersey City's allocation is set to decrease by 60 percent, to $6.7 million, while Newark's grant is being reduced 17 percent, to $12.4 million.

Codey also restated details of the school security plan he mentioned Tuesday in his State of the State address. It includes creation of a security checklist for schools, security courses for school personnel and a school security summit to be hosted by Rutgers University.

Chelsea Stone, 28, of Bloomfield, and 22-year-old Brenda Santiago of Englewood watched part of the press conference from the cosmetics store where they work on the second floor of the mall. Stone said she supports the idea of increased security at the mall and said the threat of terrorism is never completely out of her mind.

"I do think about it,'' Stone said, "being so close to the city and especially during the holidays, considering the amount of people that pass through here.''

According to Tedesco, Paramus has 11 million square feet of retail space, the most of any zip code in the nation.

No terrorist plots have been uncovered that targeted shopping malls in New Jersey. However, last June a Somali immigrant was charged with conspiring with an admitted al-Qaida member to blow up an unidentified mall in central Ohio.