TRENTON – Legislation sponsored by Senator Shirley K. Turner and Senator Linda Greenstein to establish the “Police Body Camera Implementation Task Force” to study and make recommendations on the use of body cameras by certain law enforcement in New Jersey – including requirements for implementation and best practices for the use of the cameras – was approved today by the Senate Law and Public Committee.
The task force would be comprised of representatives of law enforcement as well as civil liberties, civil rights and victims’ rights organizations, and include legislators, mayors and the Attorney General. The group would be charged with determining the most effective method of implementing body cameras in the state and guidelines for their use. The bill (S-2649) defines a “body camera” as a camera worn by a law enforcement officer that electronically records audio and video while the officer acts in the performance of his official duties.
“Body cameras are a win for both police officers and the public. In communities already using body cameras, these devices have helped to prevent unruly situations, as individual’s actions and reactions are affected by knowing they are being recorded. Implemented here, they will protect against false claims of police brutality and excess use of force,” said Senator Turner (D-Mercer/Hunterdon). “At the same time, the recordings will ensure there is accountability by officers and departments for the decisions they make in the course of their work, and will better protect the public since interactions with officers will be recorded and documented.”
Current New Jersey law requires that certain new law enforcement vehicles be equipped with video cameras or, alternatively, that certain officers wear body cameras. This bill was introduced as a means of ensuring that cameras are implemented statewide in the most effective way possible and that stakeholders have an opportunity to weigh in on and make recommendations for how a state camera policy would be implemented. Under the bill, the task force would be required to call a meeting within 7 days of appointment of its members and to report its findings and recommendations to the Governor and the Legislature no later than June 30, 2015.
“While I believe that body camera technology may be the wave of the future, it is necessary that we take a thoughtful and measured approach in implementing this technology here in New Jersey,” said Senator Greenstein (D-Mercer and Middlesex), chair of the Senate Law and Public Safety Committee. “Through the creation of this task force, we will bring together many of the interested parties – such as law enforcement, civic and community organizations, government and victims rights organizations – to discuss the most appropriate and effective way to implement this policy.”
Police Departments in cities across the country that have already implemented mandatory body cameras for their officers have seen positive results, according to statistics, the senators noted. In the first year that cameras were introduced in Rialto, California, with only 50 percent of their police force wearing body cameras, citizen complaints dropped by 88 percent and use of force incidents fell by more than 50 percent. The entire department is now outfitted with body-mounted cameras. Mesa, Arizona receives more than three times as many complaints against officers who are not wearing cameras to those who are using the technology. The Cape May County Sheriffs Office began using body cameras in 2012 and saw an 80 percent decrease in inmate complaints at the county jail, according to a published report. At least 20 police departments in New Jersey are currently using body cameras, according to a news report.
“There is no doubt that body cameras are beneficial to both law enforcement and residents. I am encouraged that police departments in New Jersey are already beginning to use the technology and that city leadership in Trenton, as well as Jersey City, Paterson and Newark are moving in that direction. I am entirely committed to the implementation of body cameras statewide, because it is technology that protects everyone,” said Senator Turner. “However, our goal is to not rush through a bill that may prove to be problematic down the road. We want to take our time, and put forward a policy for implementation that is well thought out and that all stakeholders have an opportunity to weigh in on and support.”
The 17-member task force would be comprised of the following members: (1) the Chair of the Senate Law and Public Safety Committee; (2) the Chair of the Assembly Law and Public Safety Committee; (3) a member appointed by the Senate Minority Leader; (4) a member appointed by the Assembly Minority Leader; (5,6) Two mayors appointed by the President of the New Jersey League of Municipalities, representing an urban and suburban community, respectively; (7) the Attorney General or a designee, who shall serve ex officio; (8) the New Jersey Public Defender or a designee, who shall serve ex officio; (9) a representative of the New Jersey State Policemen’s Benevolent Association, Inc.; (10) a representative of the New Jersey Fraternal Order of Police; (11) a representative of the New Jersey State Association of Chiefs of Police; (12) a representative of the of the County Prosecutors’ Association of New Jersey; (13) the Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey; (14) a representative of the Police Institute at the Rutgers School of Criminal Justice; (15) a representative of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People; (16) a public member appointed by the Governor who is a law enforcement officer in a municipality that currently utilizes police body cameras; and (17) a public member appointed by the Governor who is a victims’ rights advocate.
The bill was approved by a vote of 5-0. It next heads to the full Senate for consideration.