By Michael Aron
Chief Political Correspondent
“Public confidence in our police officers is absolutely positively vital,” said Acting Attorney General John Hoffman.
In a year of police shootings, community uproar and disturbing videos, Hoffman announced the expansion of body cameras in New Jersey.
“We are spending $1.5 million to fully equip the New Jersey State Police road troopers with body cameras. We are offering an additional $2.5 million in forfeiture funds to assist local police to acquire body cameras. I am issuing a statewide policy to ensure that best practices are followed by our police throughout the state in deploying body cameras,” he said.
Hoffman said his department has been working on new guidelines for police shootings all this year.
In April it met with the eight or nine municipal police departments currently using body cameras.
“We had a conference and every municipality that was employing body cameras were resoundingly in favor of it,” he said.
Willingboro uses them, and one of its officers demonstrated.
“All it does is requires a double push of the button to activate the recording and it’s gonna include the previous 30 seconds,” said Willingboro Police Department Capt. Kenneth Strother.
“We’re taking a leadership role in the country right now. I don’t think there’s a state in the country that has as comprehensive and robust a package that deals with body cameras as New Jersey does right now. So we’re certainly trying to stay ahead,” Hoffman said.
The State Police have been using dashboard cameras for 15 years and will now add 1,000 body cameras. Officials say recordings can bolster a citizen’s complaint or exonerate an officer.
“In the beginning when we first started videotaping, it was all about protecting the public. What happened is very, very quickly this turned out to be a tremendous piece of technology also to protect the trooper,” said New Jersey State Police Superintendent Col. Rick Fuentes.
“I remember an incident in particular — I wish I remembered the municipality — the mother came in furious at the police because she said the police had treated her son poorly. And the officer behind the desk showed her the body camera. And she left furious at her son,” Hoffman said.
Hoffman says the cameras involve a delicate balance. For example, he is mandating that they be used in traffic stops and that they not be used in people’s homes, schools and hospitals.
“There are some very difficult problems when you deal with body cameras being on a police officer all the time. We worked through all of those issues, came up with the best directive possible, and in so doing built a coalition of law enforcement and community leaders that are going to continue to analyze these issues as you would expect them to come up in a state taking a leadership role,” Hoffman said.
Acting Attorney General Hoffman called this the most important law enforcement initiative of his two years in office. Troopers on patrol are expected to start wearing body cameras by the middle of next year.