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Jax Daily Record Wednesday, Aug. 15, 200712:00 PM EST

Security system's electronics upgraded at City Hall

by: Max Marbut Associate Editor

by Max Marbut

Staff Writer

While the change isn’t that visible to the untrained eye, City Hall is getting a substantial security upgrade when it comes to surveillance technology. The components that you see when you enter the building and some located behind the scenes have been replaced through a $100,000 appropriation with 80 percent of the investment funded by a federal Homeland Security grant. In addition to new high-resolution cameras, the old black-and-white CRT monitors have been replaced with a high-definition flat-screen array and the network that connects the system with the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office has been improved.

“Now we can monitor up to nine areas at once,” said City Security Supervisor Barbara Tukes. ”This is a much better system. It’s easier to use and the technical quality is much improved.”

She added with so many people coming in and out of City Hall each day, the higher resolution is an important advantage.

“About 700 people work in this building every day and we have more than 30,000 visitors a year. The picture with the new cameras and the new displays are good enough that we can recognize faces now when before, we could only tell if there was someone in a hallway.”

The improvements in City Hall are part of an on-going process that will continue to evolve as more government offices open in the area.

City Building Engineer Bill Dekle said when renovation of the Haverty’s Building is complete it will join City Hall at St. James, the Main Library and the Ed Ball Building as Jacksonville’s “Government Square.”

“Eventually, most of the area around Hemming Plaza will include office space for City offices and departments. As government presence grows, so will the security needs.”

While much has changed on the technology side of City Hall security, the faces of the department have been familiar for years.

Al Gulley works at the front desk and has been part of the security detail since the John Delaney administration. He said he’s seen a lot in the past 11 years.

“We haven’t had a major incident in the building since I’ve worked here, but every day is different, so it’s never boring. Years ago, we used to have quite a bit of excitement when we’d have to chase people away who were swimming nude in the fountains (in Hemming Plaza) back when there were streakers. Some of the people around City Hall have been real characters. There used to be a lady we called ‘Janey” whose son put $800 in the bank for her every month, but she would give it all away and live in the park. Then there was the guy who thought he was Wild Bill Hickock. There’s not as much excitement these days,” said Gulley.

His partner at the front desk, Ray Dinning, is a relative newcomer with four years under his belt at City Hall.

“This is the best job in the city. It’s constantly changing like a theater right in front of us. I’ve never had a job I liked as much as I like this one. I’ve met some of the best people I have ever known since I went to work here.”

Paul Binkley, also known as “Trapper,” works in Hemming Plaza every day and it’s his job to make sure people obey the law in one of Jacksonville’s most public spaces.

“The plaza is my domain. There’s no drinking, sleeping, littering or skateboarding allowed. We make sure people who visit the park abide by the laws and we work hand-in-hand with the Jacksonville Sheriff’s office.

“The key to keeping Hemming Plaza safe and happy is to always treat people like human beings – but people have to understand we will uphold and enforce the laws,” he said.

Gulley added while he can appreciate the value of the recent improvements in technology, “You can have all the cameras in the world, but they can’t stop people who don’t belong here.”

Tukes, a 20-year veteran of the City’s security service, agreed.

“The technology has changed over the years, but the job really hasn’t. It’s the people who make any security system work,” she said.

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