Paterson, Newark, Jersey City to Buy Police Body Cameras

By Brenda Flanagan

“I’ve seen many abuses,” said Bobby, a Paterson resident.

Bobby’s 56 with a long criminal record. He knows the cops in Paterson all too well.

“I haven’t been no saint you know,” he said.

But he welcomes the city’s plan to equip officers with body cameras.

“Because of the way they act. The way they grab people and just throw them down and hog-tie them, for nothing,” he said.

“It’s something that is needed. It protects the officer as well as protects the individual,” said Paterson Mayor Joey Torres.

Torres will pool resources with New Jersey’s two other major cities — Newark and Jersey City — to buy body cams for police officers.

“I think it’s very important. More and more we need to utilize smart technology,” Torres said.

In the wake of Ferguson, shooting victim Michael Brown’s parents called for body cams to hold cops accountable.

Protesters hit the streets in Newark.

The Brown case touched a raw nerve here where the Department of Justice in July called for federal monitoring after finding the city’s police force repeatedly violated the rights of its citizens, especially minorities. About half of Newark’s population is African-American, but blacks accounted for 85 percent of arrests.

“The patterns of policing misconduct we have found reflect policing that too often disregards the law and alienates the communities with whom partnership is most needed to effectively combat crime,” Office for Civil Rights Director Jocelyn Samuels said in July.

“When there are instances where police officers are violating the law, we’re going to respond. When there’s incidents where we believe the system has not been put in place to effectively monitor the actions of the police, we’re also going to respond,” said Newark Mayor Ras Baraka in July.

A recent FBI report pegged Newark as having America’s third highest murder rate. The city reported 111 homicides last year. Paterson ranks high on that list for midsize cities, but its police director feels cautious about how well body camera technology works with police protocol.

“My first instinct is going to be when you see that side shot, not to shoot but to at least be ready. That’s what you’re trained at the range,” said Paterson Police Director Jerry Speziale.

But if he pauses to activate the cameras, “There’s a balance that has to be,” Speziale said.

“Now there’s gonna be a camera rolling and I know that they’re gonna think about what they’re gonna say, and what they’re gonna do. And I think it’s gonna help the civilians,” said Bobby.

The phrase “justice is blind” takes on new meaning when police get body cameras. The lens gives justice a view — one that’s close up and on the record.