TRENTON, NJ- A state initiative to fund body cameras for state and local police officers announced Tuesday, has received favorable responses from the police chiefs of both South Brunswick and Cranbury.
“I welcome the new efforts to bring greater transparency to our profession,” South Brunswick Chief of Police Raymond Hayducka said. “We have already applied for federal grants to obtain body cameras and this new funding source creates another avenue to make it a reality."
During a Tuesday press conference, state officials outlined a new program that would include $4 million in funding to provide body cameras for state and local police departments to provide “better transparency” in how officers deal with citizens.
The program would provide $1.5 million to fully fund the cameras for New Jersey State Police troopers in the field and invite local agencies to voluntarily participate through $2.5 million in county-centered grants, according to the release.
“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,” said Gov. Chris Christie in the release. “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. Through that same type of work together, we are now strengthening those efforts with the use of body cameras by police that will bolster trust, and better provide for the safety and protection of residents and officers alike.”
The money would buy the estimated 1,000 body cameras and support electronics and software for all state police troopers in the state, according to the release.
The state has already been using dashboard cameras in all state police cars for the last 15 years with great success, the release said.
"We have been videotaping our motor vehicle stops for more than 15 years through the use of in-car dashboard cameras. Those recordings have immeasurably improved our ability to supervise and have been widely used during post-stop investigations,” State Police Colonel Rick Fuentes said. “We are currently developing division protocols for the use of body worn cameras by our uniformed members with input from our unions and guidance from Acting Attorney General Hoffman's directive.”
Cranbury Chief of Police Rickey Varga said that he would likely support the program in his community, but would like more information on its implementation and consequences.
“It is absolutely something we will be looking into. Just this past week the State (Acting) Attorney General issued directives for the use of body cams in a press conference in Trenton,” Chief Varga said in an email on Thursday. “I have not fully reviewed the directive but rather briefly read the outline and it appears to be extremely comprehensive. My biggest concern is not so much the cost of the cameras and equipment. But rather the maintenance and data storage and retrieval for (criminal and civil court) discovery (regulations) and (the) Open Public Records Act. These items can be extremely costly. Once I fully review the AG Directive I will have a better understanding of our requirements and needs and then be better able to determine cost/benefit of the body cams.”
State Assemblywoman Donna Simon, R-16, commended Gov. Christie and the state Attorney General for taking the initiative with the program.
“New Jersey’s guidelines for using the cameras strikes a balance between gathering evidence and respecting the privacy of citizens, Simon said. “I commend Gov. Christie for his responsiveness to help strengthen relations between law enforcement and communities. The appropriate use of these cameras enhances the transparency of police field operations. This protective measure will provide important evidence in all investigations and arrests.”
Local agencies in Middlesex County can apply for a piece of $150,000 in grant money, according to the release.
The state divided the grant money into four tiers based on a county’s population.
Tier one counties with a population of up to 200,000 people would get $75,000 per county, tier 2 counties with between 200,000-400,000 people would each get $100,000, and tier 3 counties between 400,000-600,000 would each get $125,000, according to the release.
The largest tier 4 counties, including Middlesex, get the maximum amount.
The state will also offer a uniform policy on how the devices should be used, but local agencies can also “tailor” policies based on their individual needs, the release said.