Governor signs body camera bills

Legislation aims to provide more police transparency

Gov. Phil Murphy signed two pieces of legislation pertaining to police body cameras on Nov. 24.
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Gov. Phil Murphy signed two pieces of legislation pertaining to police body cameras on Nov. 24.

Gov. Phil Murphy signed two pieces of legislation; one requiring that every patrol officer wear a body camera, and the other regulating the use of body cameras by law enforcement.

The legislation aims to promote transparency in policing and build trust between police officers and the communities they serve.

“We’ve made it clear that New Jersey will be second-to-none in enacting vital reforms to promote transparency and boost public confidence in law enforcement,” Murphy said. “Body-worn cameras are a wise all-around investment in public safety that not only redouble our commitment to transparency and accountability, but also ensure that members of law enforcement are equipped with an important tool to help them carry out their sworn duties. Today represents another step down what we know is a long road to full understanding and lasting trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve.”

Murphy also signed an executive order that establishes a 14-member Interagency Working Group to provide recommendations to the Governor’s Office and Attorney General regarding technology solutions to facilitate the statewide implementation of body cameras in law enforcement agencies.

The Working Group will identify barriers to adopting body cameras and recommend technology solutions to facilitate their implementation.

“New Jersey has made great strides to promote a greater degree of professionalism, accountability, and transparency within our law enforcement agencies, and our state is committed to ensuring that our officers feel supported when they are in the line of duty,” said Lt. Governor Sheila Oliver, who serves as commissioner of the Department of Community Affairs. “This legislation being signed today is about developing greater accountability and establishing trust between police officers and the people who rely on them every day to keep our communities safe.”

Body camera mandate

Under the signed bill, sponsored by Senators Shirley Turner and Linda Greenstein and Assemblymembers Herb Conaway and Cleopatra Tucker, every uniformed state, county, and municipal patrol law enforcement officer will be required to wear a body camera, subject to funding appropriated by the legislature.

According to the bill, funds for the purchase of body cameras may be derived from any source, including forfeiture funds and federal grants.

Exceptions are permitted for officers engaged in undercover assignments, meeting with confidential informants, performing administrative or non-uniformed duties, and when directed by a superior officer for a lawful purpose.

The second bill, sponsored by Assemblymembers Verlina Reynolds-Jackson, Shavonda Sumter, and Cleopatra Tucker, and Senators Nia Gill and Shirley Turner, regulates the use of body cameras by law enforcement officers.

Under the bill, officers would be required to keep the camera activated when responding to a call for service or when initiating a law enforcement or investigative encounter.

When immediate activation of the camera is impossible or dangerous, an officer would be required to activate the camera “at the first reasonable opportunity to do so.”

Officers would be required to notify subjects that the camera is activated and, under certain conditions, may deactivate a camera upon the subject’s request.

To protect the privacy of civilians in sensitive situations, the bill limits the use of body cameras while officers are on school property, in medical facilities, and in houses of worship.

“As we work to improve policing in New Jersey, setting clear guidelines for body camera usage is crucial for transparency, accountability, and public confidence, safeguarding both citizens and law enforcement officers,” said Gill. “These regulations will provide clear guidelines for how these body cameras are used allowing for consistency and reliability when footage is needed and pulled.”

“In recent years, body cameras have become a valuable tool for transparency, exposing instances of police misconduct and helping to hold officers accountable,” said Turner. “They also protect officers against false accusations and reduce the legal costs associated with use-of-force lawsuits, which are ultimately paid for by taxpayers.”

“Police body cameras have become an essential part of community policing today,” said Assemblymembers Tucker, Conaway, Verlina Reynolds-Jackson, and Shavonda Sumter, in a joint statement.  “They aim to ensure accountability for any actions which take place during a police stop, whether it is by the officer or a resident. Tensions surrounding community policing escalated after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. The distrust between communities of color and law enforcement was once again highlighted in the national spotlight. A body camera is only one way of ensuring greater transparency and accountability for law enforcement, and to rebuilding community relations; however, it will be a uniquely powerful tool in getting there.”

Law enforcement approves

Several police benevolent associations and high ranking officers said they supported the measure in a press release from the Governor’s Office.

“The statewide implementation of body-worn cameras represents an important step in strengthening the bonds of trust between police departments and communities while fostering greater transparency and accountability,” said Colonel Patrick Callahan, superintendent of the New Jersey State Police.  “The New Jersey State Police has learned that recording interactions with the public from patrol vehicles for the last two decades has been a valuable asset in protecting both our citizens and our troopers alike.  The addition of body-worn camera technology is yet another layer of protection for our men and women in law enforcement and the communities they serve.”

“We are in the midst of a national reckoning on racial justice, which has highlighted a lack of trust between law enforcement and many of the communities we serve,” said Attorney General Gurbir Grewal. “Since day one, we have been committed to rebuilding and strengthening that trust, and we know that body-worn cameras are an important tool in those efforts.”

He said the cameras promote better interaction and encourage professionalism. “Today, we not only take an important step towards the uniform, statewide use of body-worn cameras, but also towards making New Jersey a national leader on yet another set of policing policies and best practices,” he said.

Executive Vice President of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives NJ Chapter Quovella Spruill said that body cameras are useful but that the cost can make them unattainable in many districts.

“These bills for body-worn camera usage and funding are long overdue,” said Spruill. “Law enforcement and the community agree on the transparency needed to aid in protecting everyone’s rights. As a mother of teenagers, woman of color, and law enforcement executive, I see how these tools can better serve in improving our relationships with our youth and citizens.”

“The signing of this bill into law today is a win for our communities and law enforcement,” said Carolyn Chang, Past President and Current Social Justice Committee Chair of the Association of Black Women Lawyers of New Jersey“On behalf of the Association of Black Women Lawyers of New Jersey, we thank the Governor and leaders in both chambers for enacting this new law.

For updates on this and other stories check www.hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Marilyn Baer can be reached at Marilynb@hudsonreporter.com.