NORTH PLAINFIELD, NJ – In a move widely supported by both police and the public, Governor Chris Christie signed a law requiring all municipal police vehicles in the state of New Jersey be outfitted with cameras.
“Our agency has been utilizing mobile video recorders for quite a few years now,” said Green Brook Police Chief G. Christopher Kurz. “We have them installed in every vehicle used for daily patrol operations.”
The Department of Justice reports that these cameras provide additional safety for both officers and the public, and help to provide for community confidence in transparency and integrity of police departments.
North Plainfield has been installing cameras in newly purchased vehicles for a number of years in anticipation of the law and does not expect the law to completely reimburse the borough for the purchases.
“Unfortunately, the upfront cost has been borne by our taxpayers,” said North Plainfield Police Chief William J. Parenti. “The systems cost will be approximately $100,000, so it will take a long time if ever to get reimbursed.”
The law provides for a $25 surcharge added to all convictions for driving while intoxicated, with the revenue going to the law enforcement agency that issued the summons. While only municipalities are required to use the revenue for the purchase of cameras the revenue will be provided to counties and the state as well.
It would take 4,000 convictions for driving while intoxicated in North Plainfield to offset the costs to the borough. Parenti says that there have been 241 citations for driving under the influence over the past five years, meaning it would take more than 80 years to recoup the costs of installing the system for the Borough. However, the cameras have a useful life of approximately five years and would need to be replaced more than a dozen times before the original costs were made up.
Due to these costs, and not in opposition of the cameras, the New Jersey Police Chiefs and the League of Municipalities both opposed the legislation and urged Christie to veto the bill.
The bill was sponsored by Assemblyman Paul Moriarty (D-4) and supported by local representatives Assemblyman Jerry Green, Assemblywoman Linda Stender and state Senator Nicholas Scutari. Moriarti had been pulled over and charged with driving while intoxicated, a charge he vehemently disputed. The video from the dashboard camera supported Moriarti’s position, leading to his exoneration and the finding that the officer who arrested him had acted improperly.
The Office of Legislative Services (OLS) states that it is unlikely that municipalities will recoup the cost of implementing the cameras via the surcharge for drunk driving convictions. The fiscal note OLS provided for the bill notes that the state of New Jersey has between 22,000 and 24,000 convictions for driving under the influence annually. OLS estimates that the combined revenue that all police departments – state, county and municipal – would receive from the $25 surcharge annually is $575,000.
It is also permissible to have wearable cameras on officers instead of in the vehicle. State Senator Shirley Turner (D-15) has proposed a bill that will require wearable cameras for all municipal officers in addition to the cameras in the vehicle.