JERSEY CITY – Jersey City is on the brink of starting a new police body camera program, a cellphone-based system that is the first of its kind in the nation. The one-year program comes at no cost to the city.
A few officers have been testing the program and that may expand to as many as 250 of the city’s 900 officers if the City Council approves the deal as they were expected to do last Thursday, reported nj.com.
The app, CopCast, allows officers to stream encounters with the public on their phones. An officer using CopCast downloads it onto his phone, straps the phone to his chest and hits a button to start recording. There’s an option for supervisors to monitor via livestream. After the encounter is over, the officer stops recording.
CopCast is being introduced at a time the city’s police force is facing two investigations involving federal authorities, one by the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s office and Hudson County prosecutor into the end of a June 4 police chase in which video shows officers kicking a man who turned out to be an innocent bystander, and a second in which federal prosecutors have been investigating the city’s off-duty jobs program for cops since at least 2015.
Civil liberties advocates have said they encourage police to wear body cameras, calling them a tool that allows for more accountability for officers’ actions. But the advocates have expressed concern about whether the cameras will turn into inner-city surveillance and whether the video footage will be available to the public, the report said.
Alexander Shalom, a senior staff attorney for the ACLU of New Jersey, said it’s unclear whether Jersey City’s use of cellphones as body cameras will “do what we think they should do.”
“If officers have carte blanche to turn the cameras on or off, it almost certainly will not provide the accountability we’ve been promised,” he said.
Mayor Steve Fulop first announced in 2014 that Jersey City would require its officers to wear body cameras. The city’s first attempt, a $1.2 million contract with Pennsylvania-based MVC that was going to provide cameras for the city, Newark and Paterson, failed when law-enforcement sources said the first batch of cameras didn’t work.