7 must-see NJ police bodycam videos: Protecting cops and the public
They’re being used to promote trust and transparency within communities across the Garden State.
Most state troopers are already wearing body cameras during their patrol shifts and all road troopers should have the devices by the middle of next year.
According to state Attorney General Gurbir Grewal, bodycams have become an important tool.
“When a law enforcement officer knows that his interaction is being recorded, and when a citizen knows their interaction is being recorded, I think people automatically act better," he said.
“We have seen in jurisdictions across the country that use bodycams, internal affairs complaints have dropped. We have seen more positive interactions.”
Colonel Patrick Callahan, the State Police superintendent, agrees.
“I tell the troopers when I’m with them, you’re on camera anyway, whether it’s a store camera, whether it’s someone holding a smart phone, so let’s show things from our perspective and capture the entire encounter.”
He said the rank-and-file troopers welcome the opportunity to wear bodycams.
“They want to make sure that any critical incident or even a basic motor vehicle stop is captured.”
Here are some of the headlines generated this year by police bodycams.
Things get wild in Wildwood
All eyes were on the Jersey Shore — not the TV show — after Wildwood police busted Emily Weinman, 20, of Philadelphia, who was seen on the beach next to some unopened bottles of alcohol. Police were criticized for punching the woman. Authorities released the bodycam, which only raised more questions. Weinman was charged with assault on an officer.
WARNING: CONTAINS VULGAR LANGUAGE AND VIOLENCE
Dude, where's your hand?!
A man is suing State Police after he was pulled over and had his rear end searched for marijuana that officers insisted they could smell. (They never found it.) The lawsuit says he was further victimized when the bodycam video went viral.
Cops survive knife attack
Atlantic City police were criticized for shooting a man on the street in June. But prosecutors released bodycam footage that showed the officers being attacked — for no apparent reason — by a knife-wielding man.
WARNING: CONTAINS GRAPHIC VIOLENCE
Cuffed girl gets hit
A South Jersey police officer was charged with assault and suspended after slapping a 13-year-old girl twice in the head even though she was already in handcuffs.
Breathtaking run to stop a train
Perth Amboy Police Officer Kyle Savoia marked his six-month anniversary on the force by saving the life of a man who was nearly run over by an oncoming train.
Back from the dead
In July, Newark cops were seen resuscitating a girl who had drowned.
Crowd shooting aftermath
Bodycams allowed the public to see the gruesome and desperate aftermath of a fatal crowd shooting at a Trenton festival. These are the anxious and desperate scenes that law enforcement and emergency personnel too often experience.
'We invite the scrutiny'
Callahan said he was a trooper when dash cams were first introduced. At first, some people were uncomfortable. But soon every trooper embraced the technology and the ability to have an accurate record of what transpires.
“We are held to a higher standard. More is expected of us, we’re expected to abide by every single nuance, whether it’s traffic laws, criminal laws, and when we don’t that’s when it becomes a story,” he said.
Grewal noted that “there are thousands and thousands of police interactions in this state each year, maybe millions, and they’re 99.9 percent positive. So we invite the scrutiny.”
“It is those out-of-context cell phone videos that sometimes paint a negative picture of an interaction, and so we would welcome an entire picture of an interaction, an entire video of an interaction to be available. And I think it promotes confidence and public trust.”
He said bodycams are expensive to purchase and use, which is one reason why they are not mandated for all New Jersey police departments. But about half are currently using the technology.
Callahan pointed out “I’ve not spoken with one trooper that has an issue with putting a bodycam on their uniform every day and going out there and serving the people of New Jersey.”
He also said while bodycams are truly a good tool, it's the police officer's training that matters.
“If the person wearing the camera doesn’t have that notion of treating people with dignity and respect, all we’re going to end up with is a bunch of negative videos and that’s not going to help us with building that public trust.”
State troopers have their bodycams operational during all routine encounters. They are generally not used when children are in view of the camera, inside courtrooms, inside healthcare facilities where there are patients, or inside churches, synagogues and mosques where worshipers might be filmed.
In 2015, the Chris Christie administration announced $1.5 million being allocated to purchase bodycams for all troopers in the field and the state set aside $2.5 million in criminal forfeiture funds to help local police departments purchase body cams for their officers.