Murphy vetoes: Police body camera laws need tweaking
TRENTON — A pair of measures aimed at uniform body camera usage by New Jersey law enforcement has been conditionally vetoed by Gov. Phil Murphy, who said that equipment expenses and potential privacy concerns need to be addressed.
Issuing statements on both bills Monday evening, Murphy said he agreed in principle with efforts to promote transparency and accountability among police.
The first measure would require all uniformed officers, with certain exceptions, to use body-worn cameras while on patrol.
New Jersey has more than 35,000 local, county, and State law enforcement officers, the governor said.
A survey released by the state Attorney General's Office in September showed more than half of those agencies do not have wearable cameras. Roughly 12,000 of the devices were presently being used statewide.
The Department of Law and Public Safety has estimated that initial deployment of nearly 26,000 cameras could cost up to $55.8 million, when factoring in equipment, licensing fees, maintenance and data storage.
However, funding for new body cameras in the first measure would have relied solely on forfeited money from accused criminals, which Murphy said amounted to less than $1 million not already earmarked as of August.
In vetoing measure S1163, the governor recommended a more reliable funding source for new body cameras, while also suggesting the requirement be subject to the limit of funds available to each law enforcement agency.
The second measure, A4312, aimed to regulate usage of body worn cameras by law enforcement officers, including limited circumstances under which a camera may be shut off and doubling the length of time that recorded footage is stored, from 90 to 180 days.
Murphy suggested multiple scenarios not yet outlined in which a camera might be turned off, including to protect the privacy of civilians who might be seeking medical attention or trying to anonymously provide information to police.
The governor also recommended adding limits to the use of body cameras in situations when an officer is in "sensitive" locations such as a school, medical facility or a place of worship.
On lengthening the time that body camera footage is stored to six months, Murphy suggested allowing existing contracts between law enforcement agencies and vendors to run their course, as the added time would likely mean additional costs for each department.
The governor also recommended dropping restrictions on when supervisors can view body worn camera recordings. He noted that instead of only allowing such review in reaction to specific misconduct accusations, "supervisors should be encouraged to proactively spot-check footage for compliance and identify potential problems that need correction."
Murphy said body cam footage can be a valuable training tool to strengthen officer performance.
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