By Michael Hill
“We believe that it will help us improve the level of policing and the quality of policing that we do in the city every single day while at the same time making our residents feel more secure and more safe around the constitutionality of their stops,” said Newark Mayor Ras Baraka.
Baraka stated the big goal of equipping 65 South Ward police officers with body-worn cameras and 15 of their vehicles with dashboard cameras — donations from Panasonic and a major goal of the consent decree with the Justice Department.
“Today’s about three Ts. Today’s about trust, transparency and the truth. And I think that’s important,” said Newark Public Safety Director Anthony Ambrose.
Police say the dashboard cameras have been programmed to automatically record when the car’s flashing red lights or siren come on, when the car hits 70 miles an hour or the officer slams on the brakes. In some cases, the body-worn cameras will record at the same time but for the most part they will rely on officers pushing a button to record.
“Away from the car, on foot, just tap this button. It’s designed for a quick tap. Stop is not an accidental stop. I have to push and hold… So it can’t be accidentally stopped,” said Panasonic Security Business Group Director of Sales John Cusick.
Two years ago, the state attorney general issued guidelines on body-worn and dashboard cameras — directing officers to make sure the cameras work, are charged and to report any malfunctions. It also directs when to record, who to tell, what’s to happen to the video and when and if to release the recordings to the public.
A Linden police officer was recording when he approached bombing suspect Ahmad Rahimi and the dashboard camera was recording when Bridgeton police shot and killed Jerame Reid — a killing both state and federal investigators said was justified.
The superintendent made it perfectly clear how the department will handle cases when officers turn off the camera or the cameras inexplicably go off in the middle of an incident.
“Well if it’s negligence on the police officers, we will deal with that harshly through our professional standards. Also in the state of New Jersey, if the officer intentionally shuts off any type of dashcam or body-worn camera, under the criminal code, 2C code, there is a charge so we will refer to the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office,” Ambrose said.
The People’s Organization for Progress welcomes the program.
“Oh I think it’s great. I think it’s a much needed reform. I support it wholeheartedly. The People’s Organization for Progress supports it wholeheartedly,” said Larry Hamm, chairman of the organization.
The Newark Police Superior Officers’ Association does as well.
“I believe it’s a good idea. What it does it ensures police accountability and captures police/citizen encounters,” said Capt. John Chrystal, president of the Newark Police Superior Officers’ Association.
The Newark Bronze Shields says, “Body worn cameras are beneficial for citizens as well as law enforcement officers … The footage provided brings about a sense of transparency sought after by all and reduces our reliance on a person’s ‘word.’”
Jersey City says it’s finalizing the rollout of its body camera program while Newark launches its pilot program Monday morning.