CAMDEN, NJ – On Tuesday, a law supported by Gov. Phil Murphy mandating the use of body cameras in police departments statewide went into effect.
The governor came to Camden to celebrate because the Camden County Police Department, which began equipping officers on the street with body cameras in 2016, is far ahead of the curve.
“Body cameras are a wise all-around investment in both public safety and justice,” Murphy said. “When used properly, they ensure that there is an impartial record of the facts that can be used when necessary in investigation and in the courts.”
State Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said, “New Jersey is now one of a handful of states that will have body cameras on each of our uniformed officers.”
He said the state will spend $57 million to provide roughly 28,000 body cameras to the state’s 487 law enforcement agencies.
“Although that’s a substantial cost, the impact will be substantial,” Grewal said.
“All people behave better when they know that they’re on tape,” he said. “That’s just a common-sense fact we’ve seen. It’s true for both police and the citizens they interact with.”
That's why officers are now required to tell people when they're being filmed by the cameras if it's safe to do so.
The governor said body cameras “also ensure that our police are equipped with the tools they need to receive the best possible training.”
On Tuesday morning, the governor got a body cam-centric tour of CCPD’s training facility with a group of other leaders including Lt. Governor Sheila Oliver, State Police Colonel Patrick J. Callahan, Mayor Vic Carstarphen, Rep. Donald Norcross, state Sen. Nilsa Cruz-Perez, Sheriff Gilbert “Whip” Wilson and Pastor Steven Mack.
The department's Chief Gabe Rodriguez said the technology has helped a great deal with training, both when bringing on new officers and with continued education for more experienced ones.
“We’ve had cases where offices have sat on scenes for 18 hours talking to people who suffer from mental health (issues), and we utilize that video footage to train other officers on what he did well and what he should do better in the future,” Rodriguez said.
Officers involved in use of force incidents also have their conduct reviewed based on body camera footage.
“If you use force, it’s immediately reviewed, and even if you do everything justified and right, we still bring you in because we want you to do better,” the chief said.
“You could have talked with a lower tone to that person, maybe positioned yourself better, maybe showed your hands, maybe taken off your hat, been more approachable,” he said, describing the sort of critiques the body camera footage has made possible.
Jill Mayer, the Acting Camden County prosecutor, said the footage is also extremely useful when investigating allegations of excessive force.
“It’s been a tremendous help,” she said. “Having that piece of objective evidence to be able to look to without having to rely on people’s version of events is sort of critical for us.”
Mayer said, “there might have been some hesitancy or fear on law enforcement’s part when it first began, but over the years I think they’ve seen how it’s been a help to them in many instances.”
Grewal agreed that good police officers statewide benefit from the ubiquity of body cameras.
“Not only does the public want the accountability of the videotape, so too does law enforcement,” he said.
“The tens of thousands of officers across New Jersey quietly doing their jobs, pledging themselves every day to protect perfect strangers, they want this incontrovertible evidence that shows their conduct in any given situation,” the attorney general said.
“All of us are united in one vision, and that’s ensuring that not only the City of Camden, but this county and our entire state continues to be a safe place for families to call home,” the governor said.
He said the ubiquity of body cameras will go a long way in “ensuring strong bonds of trust between law enforcement and the people they serve.”
But Murphy said this legislation is just a step in the right direction.
“Even though we now have a strong new law in effect, we know our work is not done,” he said.
“Body cameras alone do not make a community safer,” he said. “They are necessary but not sufficient.”