New Jersey State Troopers to Wear Body Cameras
The New Jersey State Police will spend $1.5 million to acquire 1,000 body cameras for troopers, Gov. Christie’s office said Tuesday while also announcing new guidelines aimed at expanding disclosures about investigations of officers’ use of force. While state police cruisers have had dashboard cameras for years, this will be the first time troopers will wear cameras. The equipment is expected to be rolled out during the next few months, with all troopers on patrol getting the gear by the middle of next year. The force numbers over 1,500, though not all troopers police the roads. The agency will pay for the cameras from its general equipment fund. In addition, the Attorney General’s Office is offering $2.5 million in forfeiture money for local police departments to purchase cameras and ancillary equipment for their officers. The announcement comes as Christie promotes criminaljustice reforms while seeking the Republican presidential nomination, and as other states consider requiring officers to wear body cameras. It also comes two months after President Obama visited Camden to discuss the findings of his Task Force on 21st Century Policing, which emphasized the use of body cameras and other tools to build community trust. “Across the country, we’ve seen what happens when distrust and distance between police and their communities result in situations that can quickly spiral out of control,” Christie said in a statement Tuesday. In New Jersey, he said, “we’re doing things differently.” Troopers in New York state do not wear body cameras. In Pennsylvania, legislation was proposed this year that would make them a requirement. The Philadelphia Police Department began a pilot program in December using body cameras in the 22d District. That program is continuing, a department spokeswoman said. In New Jersey, guidelines from the Attorney General’s Office say police must have their body cameras turned on when making an arrest and searching someone. The officer can turn off the camera if it could reveal the identity of an undercover officer, or, at the officer’s discretion, if an individual who is stopped requests it to be turned off. Udi Ofer, Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey, said the camera guidelines do not go far enough. The people being recorded, he said, are not guaranteed access to the video. State guidelines say it is up to a prosecutor or the agency handling the investigation to determine if a civilian can view it. “While it contains some important safeguards, it fails to address those very concerns that have triggered the public’s desire for body cameras in the first place,” Ofer said. Assemblyman Paul D. Moriarty (D., Gloucester), who is pushing a bill that would require all police officers to wear body cameras, praised the announcement. Some police departments in New Jersey such as Evesham Township and Atlantic City already equip some of their officers with body cameras. “This move will make New Jersey a leader in ensuring justice for innocent civilians while also protecting law enforcement officers as they serve the public,” said Moriarty, who also sponsored legislation signed by Christie last year that requires new police cruisers to have dashboard cameras. Col. Rick Fuentes, superintendent of the New Jersey State Police, noted in a statement that troopers’ dashcams have been in use for more than 15 years and “have immeasurably improved our ability to supervise, and have been widely used during post-stop investigations.” Under additional guidelines made public Tuesday, a county prosecutor’s office now must also disclose.