ATLANTIC CITY - Unless the "Queen of Resorts" is clean and safe, visitors won't come back, and investors won't finance the projects needed to turn it into a world-class travel destination.
That is the thinking behind a $6.1 million plan announced Monday that enlists 12 local, county, and state agencies and the casino industry to heighten security, expand the use of law enforcement technology, and target blight in Atlantic City.
The "Clean & Safe" initiative is part of an aggressive plan announced in 2010 by the Christie administration to bolster New Jersey's gaming industry. Central to the strategy was creation of an Atlantic City tourism district whose day-to-day operation - everything from policing to trash removal - was outside the jurisdiction of local government in the cash-strapped resort.
"A clean and safe Atlantic City is the key to an economic turnaround in the region. . . . We are producing results that people can see and feel," Attorney General Jeffrey S. Chiesa said at a news conference at Boardwalk Hall. "Our efforts are producing a welcoming environment where safety is the watchword."
The New Jersey Casino Reinvestment Development Authority (CRDA), which has oversight of the tourism district formally created last month, will finance the effort.
Through partnerships with the Atlantic City police, the plan calls for 25 new special law enforcement officers, increased police bike and foot patrols in the tourism district, expanded private casino-security patrols in parking garages, and a total of 60 CRDA "ambassadors" to assist visitors on the Boardwalk and Pacific and Atlantic Avenues between 8 a.m. and 2 p.m. daily.
A multiagency Atlantic City Violent Crime Task Force already is targeting organized crime in the resort, Chiesa said. Since August, it has arrested 183 individuals on charges ranging from narcotics and weapons offenses to homicide, he said.
Another component of the plan is an intelligence project called "Eyes on Atlantic City," led by the Atlantic County Prosecutor's Office, which has gathered data on more than 450 privately owned noncasino surveillance systems in the city that could aid police.
A system called Mutualink is expected to enhance the ability of emergency responders and casinos to communicate during a crisis, according to officials. Besides giving law enforcement access to the casinos' closed-circuit TV systems, it will set protocols so that public-safety personnel may share voice, video, and other data across a secure Internet connection.
Through a soon-to-be-launched "Tip 411" program, citizens will be able to text-message police anonymous tips and to engage in confidential two-way chats with law enforcement. The tool is intended to help residents play a more active role in keeping their neighborhoods safe, said Atlantic City Police Chief Ernest Jubilee.
Newly installed lighting has doubled illumination on the Boardwalk, Jubilee said. The $2.5 million project was financed by the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority.
Quality-of-life initiatives planned for in and around the tourism zone include a zero-tolerance crackdown on prostitution, an outreach program to aid the homeless, demolition of abandoned buildings, and a clean-parks and graffiti-abatement project.
Mayor Lorenzo Langford was not among the many government and casino officials at Monday's event, and calls to his office for comment were not returned.
Langford previously objected to creation of the tourism district and cited interference by the state into Atlantic City's affairs. At a December 2010 news conference, the Democratic mayor complained that the state would unfairly direct resources toward the city's visitors, most of whom are white, at the expense of the resort's predominantly nonwhite population.