Nearly 500 NJ police agencies are approved for body camera grants
The state's requirement that all uniformed patrol police officers wear body cameras has gone into effect today, even as some departments continue to secure the needed equipment.
State grants have been approved for all 487 law enforcement agencies that applied for body-worn camera funding, Gov. Phil Murphy said at a press conference in Camden on Tuesday.
The grants are through a $58 million program earmarked under related legislation signed in January.
In a survey done by the Attorney General's Office last fall, 239 out of 537 law enforcement agencies — from college campus police to State troopers — had started equipping officers with body-worn cameras as of September.
“These powerful devices have been embraced by community members and advocates calling for transparency and by police officers, who see them as a critical tool to protect and assist law enforcement with their difficult jobs," Murphy said.
Just a week ago, state Attorney General Gurbir Grewal released an updated directive that added to the list of law enforcement required to wear the recording devices, to include:
- All uniformed patrol officers while acting in the performance of official duties
- All officers on tactical teams, including SWAT & SRT (Special Response Team)
- All officers assigned to "proactive enforcement teams"
- All officers assigned to canine units
- All officers whose assigned duties include regular interaction with members of the public
- All officers assigned to “front desk” duty in law enforcement agencies
- All officers assigned to a pre-planned search warrant execution or pre-planned arrest
- All uniformed officers assigned to work at demonstrations or potential civil disturbances
There still are exceptions, including undercover officers or those on administrative duty.
“Body cameras are a powerful tool to help us in these efforts. By acting as an unbiased witness to law enforcement actions, they help to safeguard equal justice, while also protecting the vast majority of officers who do the right thing day-in and day-out,” Grewal said at the same appearance in Camden.
New Jersey has more than 35,000 local, county and state law enforcement officers.
The Camden County Police Department has been using body-worn cameras for more than five years. A presentation before the press conference on Tuesday featured footage from a camera worn by a Camden County officer, during an incident that began with a mental health crisis and ended with no serious injuries.
Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver, U.S. Rep. Donald Norcross, D-1st District,, Camden Mayor Vic Carstarphen, Camden County Police Chief Gabe Rodriguez and State Police Superintendent Colonel Pat Callahan also were in attendance, along with local officials and community advocates.
“When we started working with the NYU Policing Project on our body worn camera implementation plan in 2015 we knew that the transparency of body worn cameras would be a strong asset for our work with the community,” Rodriguez said. “Since then, our BWC program has been an invaluable tool and over the last two years our agency has started to use the footage for training- much like a quarterback would review game tape in the film room."
Grewal also cited a 2012 study, which found that use-of-force by officers wearing cameras fell by 59% compared to the prior year, when officers were not wearing cameras, saying "All people behave better when they know that they're on tape."
Outside companies storing the footage have been barred from viewing it, under the body-cam law signed by Murphy in November.
That legislation requires all police on patrol to be wearing body cameras starting June 1 and all footage to be kept for at least 180 days.
Video of police force and arrests should be kept for at least three years, under the law.
The updated directive also expanded circumstances for the longer storage window — such as by request of either the officer or a private citizen in certain footage.