By Michael Aron
Chief Political Correspondent
Police union officials in Edison have no problem with the dozens of surveillance cameras installed by the chief at police headquarters 11 months ago.
But they were appalled recently to learn the cameras were secretly capturing audio, not just video.
“To say I was disturbed is an understatement. We had expectations of privacy, assured that was the case, and we didn’t, and that was a major breach of privacy,” President of the Superior Officers Association Bruce Polkowitz said.
The Edison Police Department has been roiled by political infighting for years.
Nearly 10 percent of the 170-member force has an active lawsuit against the department.
But the distrust generated by the discovery of the secret audio recordings has ratcheted up ill feelings toward the chief.
When asked if the audio recording was inadvertent, Polkowitz said, “It’s my belief, no. … It may very well have been, but that’s not my call.”
“You have the potential for criminal liability as well as civil liability both under state and federal wiretapping acts,” James Mets, a lawyer for the Superior Officers Association, said. “The individuals who were responsible for installing the recording devices and who were making the recordings [would be liable].”
Edison Police Chief Thomas Bryan did not want to talk on camera today but told us on background that the recordings lasted just a few weeks and were inadvertent. He blamed the firm in Manalapan that installed them for activating the audio.
A written statement he gave us says, “The vendor that originally installed the cameras has taken full responsibility for the error and has acknowledged that he was explicitly told by members of this administration to disable the audio microphones.”
The cameras are in the lobby, in the watch commander’s station, directly outside the internal affairs office and outside the municipal courtroom.
“You have law enforcement agencies in there, attorneys talking to their clients there,” Polkowitz said.
The unions aren’t accusing Chief Bryan of spying on them, but they’re talking like that’s what they believe.
“If he said there was no audio, then why did he put cameras in the building that had audio capability?” asked Polkowitz.
The Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office has begun an investigation into the case of the surreptitious — or accidental — recordings. Police union leaders have also asked the state attorney general and the U.S. Attorney in Newark to get involved.