SCOTCH PLAINS, NJ -- The police departments in Scotch Plains and Fanwood have lauched county-funded body camera programs for their patrol officers. The program was implemented in the week of November 9th, 2015.
According to Scotch Plains Police Chief Brian Mahoney, the pilot program quickly paid dividends.
"The first day we implemented the program, there was a foot pursuit where the cameras were used," Mahoney said.
Officers are wearing the 3.5 ounce cameras during their patrols. Described as 'policing in the modern world," the cameras will provide an objective perspective in the case of a dispute between officer and citizen. This method has more flexibilty than the stationary camera in police cars, which cannot provide audio of interactions between police officers and members of the public.
“We’ve seen in a lot of areas that were studied, there’s been a decrease in use-of-force incidents and a comparable decrease in citizen complaints,” Mahoney added.
The chief reasons that when both citizen and officer are aware they are being recorded, there will be more positive interaction.
“Around the country the implementation of body camera programs like this leads to greater accountability and transparency of interaction with the public.”
The program is largest county-funded program of its kind, said Grace H. Park, Acting Union County Prosecutor. The Prosecutor’s Office used approximately $750,000 of its forfeiture funds – funds seized during the course of investigations because they were being used for criminal purposes – to pay for all of the necessary equipment, training, and servicing for the agencies that are deploying the body cameras.
“All of those nine agencies then agreed to fund the necessary equipment, training, and servicing for their body cameras for a minimum of two years thereafter,” Park explained.
Each individual camera costs $1,350 per officer, which is the average first-year cost. After that first year, police departments in each municipality will need to budget for the maintenance fees, costing about $670 per officer. Each patrolman gets his own camera and ID number.
Owning the cameras could save more money in the end because the video is saved on a cloud platform.
“As a cost effective measure we were looking to go to a system where once the videos from the officer's’ body camera are downloaded, they go to an internet based site, but it is a secure site that we only would be able to access,” Chief Mahoney said.
“High-profile events involving interactions between police and the public nationwide during the last several years have clearly illustrated that a divide exists between some of our communities and the law enforcement entities that are sworn to serve and protect them," Park explained.
"We feel that body cameras are just one tool that can be used to help bridge that gap, but they must be accompanied by improvements in areas such as training and community outreach as well."