New Jersey law mandates police cams; Illinois next?

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | 9/22/2014

A new law in New Jersey calls for equipping all police cars in the state with dashboard cameras. Illinois could soon follow suit.

Currently, all New Jersey State Police vehicles come equipped with dash cams. However, municipal police vehicles do not.

Gov. Chris Christie has signed a bill into law requiring all newly acquired municipal police vehicles that are primarily used for traffic stops to be equipped with cameras.

The requirement was approved by state lawmakers a year ago, but the governor failed to act on the bill, effectively killing it via a pocket veto.

In an effort to get the governor’s endorsement, this year’s version contains a provision to include body cameras. The alternative to equipping police cars is estimated to cost only a few hundred dollars compared to a few thousand dollars for dash cams.

Assemblyman Paul Moriarty, D-Gloucester/Camden, led the charge on the effort following his 2012 arrest for drunken driving and other charges. All charges were later dropped after law enforcement reviewed dashboard camera video from the officer’s car.

“As recent controversies have shown, it helps to have video footage to back up claims of excessive force and abuse of authority against civilians,” Moriarty said in prepared remarks. “Conversely, there are many good officers who have been wrongly accused of impropriety and this measure is designed to ensure their protection as well.”

To help foot the bill for adding cameras, drunken driving fines would include a $25 surcharge.

Jon Moran, senior legislative analyst at the New Jersey League of Municipalities, recently told a Senate panel he appreciates the intent of A2280 but his group was in opposition due to funding concerns.

The Office of Legislative Services also estimates the total municipal costs will exceed the amount of revenue raised through drunken driving fines.

Sen. Donald Norcross, D-Camden/Gloucester, said that other states should be taking note of what New Jersey has done on the issue.

“While the tragedy that occurred in Ferguson, Mo., is still being probed, it’s hard to comprehend why more states aren’t following our lead,” Norcross stated.

A similar pursuit is expected in Illinois this fall. Sen. Bill Haine, D-Alton, and Rep. Jehan Gordon-Booth, D-Peoria, have announced plans to pursue increased funding for police departments to buy more cameras.

The plan would add money to an existing grant program to enable local police to buy body cameras or dashboard cameras.

HB3911 is expected to be amended to increase an existing court fee by $6 to fund the camera grant program. The fee is estimated to raise as much as $6 million annually.

Illinois lawmakers are scheduled to return to Springfield in November for the annual fall session.

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