New Jersey and its towns and counties are often at the forefront of policing techniques and new approaches to criminal justice issues. Such is the case in light of the national calls for expanded adoption of body cameras for police officers following troubling and tragic incidents of apparent police misconduct. Some of the recent incidents that have called police conduct into question include the events that occurred following Sandra Bland’s arrest and death while in police custody, the difficult situation in Ferguson, Missouri, and the actions of a Cleveland police officer who deployed pepper spray into a crown of people. In fact, prior to the charges in public perception brought on by these events, it was often the victim of police brutality or misconduct that ends up facing felony assault or other criminal charges and not the officer.
These types of incidents undermine public trust in the police and the criminal justice system. In light of this fact, New Jersey local and state police are taking steps intended to solidify public confidence in NJ police officers’ ability to behave professionally and appropriately. The directive issued by Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman states “Although New Jersey’s existing procedures for investigating use-of-force incidents are already among the most comprehensive and rigorous in the nation, it is appropriate to strengthen those investigative standards and protocols to ensure that best practices are followed uniformly across the state.”
More than 1,000 NJ State Police to Wear Body Cameras
Last week Acting New Jersey Attorney General John. J Hoffman announced the state’s intention to equip all New Jersey State troopers with body cameras by early next year. Hoffman characterized the effort as another step to ensure that cases and matters are decided based on objective evidence. Hoffman stated that this measure increases the likelihood that “truth rules the day, not emotions, not agendas and not personal bias.”
In light of the announcement, Governor Chris Christie praised the action stating “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. In New Jersey, we’re doing things differently and showing how engagement and relationship-building by officers in their communities make our neighborhoods safer and our law-enforcement efforts more effective.”
Under the plan, the New Jersey State Police are expected to use about $1.5 million in funding to purchase roughly 1,000 body cameras for deployment. An additional $2.5 million is available to local police forces to expand their body camera usage, mostly in the form of grants. While the plan does not mandate the use of body cameras by police forces, is does set forth statewide guidelines for proper use. These guidelines address:
- Activation of police body camera – The policies state when an officer must activate a body camera. These scenarios include when the officer makes a traffic stop, interviews a witness, and during custodial interrogations. Furthermore when the officer engages in a protective frisk, a search, or an arrest the camera must be activated.
- Deactivation of the camera – Cameras are prohibited in circumstances where the officer is working undercover or as a confidential informant. Other restrictions on the use of the camera will apply in locations where there is an expectation of privacy such as while in a private home or school unless exigent circumstances are present.
- Disclosure of recording by the officer – The policy also requires officers to take reasonable steps to inform members of the public that they are being recorded. Officers are required to answer truthfully about whether they are recording.
- Retention of recorded materials – Police departments are charged with adopting systems that can reliably store camera footage in a secure manner. All attempts to access recorded materials must be logged.
Are Police Body Cameras Already in Use in South Jersey?
The Atlantic City police have been ahead of the curve even among the already ahead of the curve police departments in New Jersey. While Atlantic City is the only city, town, or municipality in Atlantic County to deploy the cameras, they have been in use since, roughly, August of last year. However, Atlantic City is far from the only local jurisdiction making use of the cameras.
Other towns already making use of police body camera in South Jersey include the Rowan University police force, and the police in Glassboro, Paulsboro, and Evesham Township. On the whole, officers in these towns have reported positive experiences with the cameras. Evesham Police Chief Christopher Chew was quoted by ABC6 stating, “It’s been a total game changer for us. We now have the ability, even if we’re wrong, we can make corrective actions and learn from it and show exactly what happened on video.”
Indeed, if properly used, the cameras should have a deterrent effect on police misconduct. Furthermore, the cameras should help the plight of victims of police misconduct whose allegations are routinely dismissed until corroborating evidence is provided by a witness or passerby. The new policy should reduce these inequities and permit experienced criminal defense attorneys to more effectively and objectively assist those who have been victimized by individuals who have sworn to protect the public.
Criminal Defense Lawyers Fight for You in Southern NJ
If false statements by an officer, a false police report, or other police misconduct has resulted in serious criminal charges, the experienced criminal defense attorneys of the Law Firm of John J. Zarych can fight for you. With more than 40 years of combined criminal defense experience, our criminal defense attorneys can work to defend your rights and freedom. To schedule a free and confidential legal consultation, call 800-508-9768 or contact us online.