(The Center Square) – Gov. Phil Murphy has signed into law legislation to help municipalities buy body cameras for local police officers.
The measure makes a $58 million supplemental appropriation for the Department of Law and Public Safety to create the New Jersey Statewide Body Worn Camera (BWC) grant program.
Assembly members Benjie Wimberly, D-Bergen/Passaic; Verlina Reynolds-Jackson, D-Mercer/Hunterdon; Cleopatra Tucker, D-Essex; and Thomas Giblin, D-Essex, sponsored the measure.
“The recent events we’ve witnessed nationwide involving police officers have urged states to do more to increase the safety of residents, communities and its officers during law enforcement stops in the State,” the sponsors said in a statement.
Last month, Murphy signed a separate measure, Senate Bill 1163/Assembly Bill 4271, into law requiring all patrol officers to wear body cameras. However, it was “subject to funding appropriated by the Legislature,” according to a news release at the time.
The governor signed another bill, Senate Bill 101/Assembly Bill4312, mandating officers to keep their cameras activated when responding to a call or initiating “a law enforcement or investigative encounter.” It stipulated that if officers could not immediately safely activate their cameras at the start of a call, they must do so as soon as safely possible.
Starting Jan. 1, 2022, law enforcement agencies that purchased body cameras before the bill’s effective date may apply to be reimbursed for the cost of body cameras they bought.
There are more than 35,000 local, county, and state law enforcement officers in New Jersey. There are an estimated 12,000 cameras in use across the state, leaving two-thirds of officers without body cameras.
“Municipalities are now searching for sources of funding to purchase body camera equipment helping to ensure accurate documentation of both the citizen and the officer during any interaction,” the lawmakers said in a statement. “The cost for body camera equipment varies, which includes not only the one time purchase of the equipment but also maintenance, data storage, oversight, and replacement due to wear and tear.
“Fitting all of the necessary members of a police force with body cameras is a large task but required and capable in these times,” the lawmakers added. “This legislation will help municipalities create their programs and provide body cameras to their officers.”
The bill mandates agencies use “a tamper-proof digital evidence management system” to store data from the cameras. Such a system enables an audit trail and chain of custody information.
“Body cameras can help increase public trust by providing recorded evidence of interactions with law enforcement that can help resolve any disputes,” state Sen. Joe Cryan, D-Union, said in a statement. Cryan previously served as sheriff of Union County.
“As a former sheriff, I can tell you I referred to body cameras for footage that cleared officers,” Cryan added. “They are a verifiable way to prove that the vast majority of law enforcement officers do their job and do it well.”