ELIZABETH, NJ - Acting Union County Prosecutor Michael A. Monahan announced earlier today that Union County would become the first county in New Jersey exclusively patrolled by local law enforcement to have full body camera coverage on all departments.
Monahan was joined by county officials and most of Union County’s 21 municipal police chiefs, including chief John Cook of Springfield, at the Andrew K. Ruotolo Justice Center in downtown Elizabeth to mark the occasion.
“I am confident there will come a time when body-worn cameras are as commonplace as any other item in a police officer’s toolkit,” Monahan said. “But for now, we can be satisfied in the knowledge that Union County, on the issue of body-worn cameras, is at the vanguard among law enforcement in New Jersey, progressively ahead of the curve and leading the way.”
Cook, who is also the President of the Union County Police Chiefs Association said that having the cameras would be a vital piece of equipment for officers and departments throughout the county.
“Vehicle video systems have been available for law enforcement for decades, but body-worn cameras are a vast improvement because they allow you to see incidents unfold from the officers’ actual point of view," Cook said. They have become a valued tool in daily use not only for officers’ protection, but the protection of the citizenry as well. The body-worn camera gives a true account of events, and may even reveal evidence that was not initially seen.”
Approximately $181,000 was distributed by the Prosecutor’s Office from its forfeiture funds toward the program. The money was sent to six municipal police departments this past year to cover a major portion of first-year startup costs for body-worn cameras, as well as other equipment and file storage related to the cameras themselves. All departments that received money are currently in various stages of camera deployment. The process is anticipated to be completed early in next year.
Along with the county grants, the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office also awarded 15 police departments in Union County $376,500 to purchase body-worn cameras as part of past funding programs that offered over $3 million to police agencies across the state to acquire the devices.
“I share a firm commitment with law enforcement across New Jersey to fostering stronger police-community relations through increased transparency and accountability,” said Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal. “Body-worn cameras are an important tool for promoting confidence in our police officers by holding them accountable, while also protecting them from unfounded complaints and helping them gather evidence. I applaud Prosecutor Monahan and leaders throughout Union County for recognizing that these devices make officers more effective and enhance the safety of the public and police alike.”
Body cameras are activated at the start of calls for service, as long as the officer's safety permits, and during any on-duty encounter with a civilian. There are several key exceptions for certain situations and in potentially sensitive venues such as schools or houses of worship. Most circumstances in which the cameras are deployed include traffic stops, vehicle searches, arrests.
During the course of each workday, officers also file their videos electronically by placing them into different categories. Once an officer returns to police headquarters following a shift, they remove the camera and place it in a docking station. At that point the footage is automatically uploaded to cloud storage or local servers while the device also recharges.
Local officials were also present at the ceremony as well. Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders Chairman Sergio Granados joined Monahan and other police chiefs Thursday to voice his support.
“Among our Board of Chosen Freeholders’ ‘Moving Union County Forward’ priorities announced at the start of this year, public safety was central among them," Granados said. "Prosecutor Monahan and our police chiefs working together to achieve full, countywide implementation of body-worn cameras is something that will make public life safer not only for our brave men and women in law enforcement, but also the many citizens they interact with every day,”
Granados added “Furthermore, it marks another step toward ensuring that transparency and accountability in Union County are more than just words, but ideals, backed up by action.”