By David Cruz
Because not all traffic stops end politely, police across the country are rushing to deploy BWC’s, body worn cameras. The latest? Union County, where the acting prosecutor and brass from eight of the county’s 21 municipalities announced the start of a body camera pilot program.
“We’ve seen events across the nation that demonstrate how critical these relationships between law enforcement and the community really are, in both good times and bad, and this relationship is built only through a mutual trust,” said Acting Union County Prosecutor Grace Park.
The cameras will serve a kind of “trust but verify” role, ensuring – officials say – that both police and the public are covered. Park says the cameras have been deployed in large departments in Alabama, Arizona and California.
“The introduction of body cameras was followed by a reduction in citizen complaints of between 40 and 90 percent, and reduction of police use of force incidents of 35 to 75 percent,” she said.
That sounds pretty good but – even with a voluminous set of guidelines from the Attorney general’s office, the state’s ACLU is expressing concern, specifically about when the cameras are required to roll and who has access to what they roll on.
“When they come up to someone on the street and say ‘hey where are you going, what are you doing,’ those kind of low-level interactions that often escalate into bigger actions, those are not required,” noted Alex Shalom, senior staff attorney, at the ACLU-NJ. “And if we have a system in New Jersey where we can record this stuff but only the police have access to it, it doesn’t serve as an accountability tool it turns the body cameras into increased surveillance and that doesn’t advance police community relations.”
Officials say that this pilot period is intended to work out all the kinks in this program and that once they compile the data they expect to get full buy in from the other municipalities in Union County.
So far, it’s just Elizabeth, Fanwood, Garwood, Linden, Plainfield, Roselle Park, Scotch Plains and Mountainside, which includes some of the county’s toughest neighborhoods. The prosecutor’s office will pay for the cameras, training and storage for a year. The units themselves will run about $400 but with storage fees, etc. it’ll be over $1,000 per cop per year, which is something departments, not only in Union County, but around the state, will be taking into consideration as body cameras become as ubiquitous as pepper spray and nightsticks.