ESSEX COUNTY, NJ — Answering the demand of activists across New Jersey and the United States at large, the Essex County Prosecutor's Office will mandate body-worn and dash cameras for all county police departments within a year, according to Acting Prosecutor Theodore Stephens II.
The announcement came during July 15th's Use of Force Town Hall in Newark, where law enforcement and criminal justice officials for the county discussed overhauling police policy and explored use of force in one of the state's most diverse regions. Stephens said that ECPO plans to implement written policies to etch the promise in stone.
“One hundred percent of the law enforcement agencies in Essex County, within one year of today, will have body cameras and dash cams,” he said. " “It is hard to trust when all you have from the past is evidence as to why you should not trust someone. The sobering reality is that many Americans just do not have a high level of trust in the justice system."
In New Jersey, use of force policy has remained unchanged for 20 years, but officials that included Attorney General Grewal promised to usher in a new era for communities in Essex County. Grewal recently vowed to revise the existing Use of Force policy following national outcry over the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and other unarmed Black citizens by police officers.
Stephens said that hiring from within the community would also be an integral piece of how the county shifts its policy. Going forward, ECPO will consider factors such as background and skill set with less emphasis on "militaristic" qualities. He emphasized a "do justice, seek justice, serve justice" approach to creating accountable departments across the county.
"We, who are here trying to effect this policy in a positive way, do so at a time because we have the opportunity. We are in a privileged position to effect a lasting change that our ancestors could have only hoped to have been in a position to do,” he said.
Mitchel McGuire, chief of detectives for ECPO, said new curriculum for officers would focus on community engagement and cultural and community understanding. Assistant Prosecutor Alex Albu commented on the insufficient number of training hours officers receive for defensive tactics, chases and use of force, saying that more time needs to be devoted to these potentially lethal components of policing.
"That’s 40 hours of hands-on training, but then potentially a 30-year career after that. So, is 40 hours enough for 30 years? The attorney general doesn’t think so. We don’t think so," he said.