New Jersey bill would set up task force to study police-worn cams

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | Monday, December 29, 2014

A bill halfway through the New Jersey statehouse calls for a study of whether police throughout the state should be outfitted with body video cameras.

The effort is in response to protests around the nation following August’s fatal police shooting of an unarmed 18-year-old in Ferguson, Mo. Officer Darren Wilson was not wearing a body camera when he shot and killed Michael Brown.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie already signed a bill into law in September to equip all newly acquired municipal police cars in the state with dashboard cameras. However, departments can opt to save money and instead outfit officers with body-worn cameras.

The Senate voted unanimously to advance a bill, S2649, to set up a task force to make decisions on the use of the video devices.

The 17-member task force would be responsible for determining the most effective method of implementing body cameras in the state and guidelines for their use. The group would include the attorney general, law enforcement agencies and civil rights groups.

Sen. Shirley Turner, D-Mercer/Hunterdon, said the body cameras are a win for both police officers and the public.

“Implemented here, they will protect against false claims of police brutality and excess use of force,” Turner said in a news release. “At the same time, the recordings will ensure there is accountability by officers and the departments for the decisions they make in the course of their work.”

Critics of the plan to outfit officers with cameras say they are concerned about unintended consequences of the devices that can be worn on the officer’s chest, shoulder or eyeglasses. Specifically, they have voiced concerns about whether footage will be made available to the public and the possibility it would deter people from talking to police.

Sen. Linda Greenstein, D-Mercer/Middelsex, said the task force is a necessary step for the state to take.

“While I believe that body camera technology may be the wave of the future, it is necessary that we take a thoughtful and measured approach in implementing this technology here in New Jersey,” Greenstein stated.

The panel would be required to report its findings to the Legislature by June 30, 2015.

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