State Lawmakers Push for Reimbursement of Body Cameras Bought by Law Enforcement Agencies
Some New Jersey lawmakers say it took George Floyd’s death at the hands of police in Minneapolis on Memorial Day to get a bill in this state that’s been languishing for years to the finish line.
TRENTON, NJ -- State lawmakers are pushing to defray the costs of critical body cameras worn by law enforcement. Under the legislation introduced by Senator Linda Greenstein and Assemblymen Dan Benson and Wayne DeAngelo (all D-Mercer/Middlesex), local law enforcement agencies would be reimbursed for body cameras purchased prior to the implementation of the New Jersey Statewide Body Worn Camera Program.
According to a recent survey conducted by the New Jersey Office of the Attorney General, there are a total of 239 State, county, and municipal agencies which have a body worn camera (BWC) program with a total of 12,195 cameras deployed.
“Many municipalities throughout New Jersey took a proactive approach, having purchased and mandated the usage of body cameras by their law enforcement officers,” said Greenstein, who chairs the Senate Law and Public Safety Committee. “As we prepare to fund the NJ Statewide Body Worn Camera Program, it is only right to reimburse the agencies that took it upon themselves to purchase the cameras and utilize them as a tool to increase safety for both citizens and officers.”
Under the Statewide Body Worn Camera Program, which regulates the use of body cameras worn by law enforcement offices, a camera would have to be located where it maximizes the ability to capture video footage of the officer's activities. The video and audio functions must be activated whenever the officer is responding to a call or at the initiation of any other encounter between an officer and a member of the public.
Officers are prohibited from using the body camera surreptitiously or to gather intelligence information. In addition, parameters are set for how long footage would have to be retained, depending on what is captured in the footage.
The program will be enacted in seven months.
"Many police departments have been using body cameras for years. They were ahead of the curve in recognizing the safety and efficiency benefits for both officers and the public. As we anticipate body-worn cameras will ultimately be used by every law enforcement officer in New Jersey, it's only fair that we reimburse municipalities like my hometown of Hamilton and many others in Mercer and Middlesex counties that have already purchased these devices," said Benson
The bill would grant a supplemental appropriation of $30 million for agencies who purchased body cameras before the mandatory usage of body cameras is required statewide. The law creating the Statewide Body Worn Camera Program already allocated $58 million for the purchase of body work cameras.
“As the state looks to roll out the NJ Statewide Body Worn Camera Program, we need to keep in mind the towns who have already take this action,” said DeAngelo. “This bill will make sure those towns are treated fairly and reimbursed for doing the right thing for their residents' and officers' safety.”
According to the lawmakers, the cost for BWC equipment varies and can including the initial purchase of the equipment as well as the cost of maintenance, data storage, oversight, and replacement due to wear and tear of the camera. Many law enforcement departments are experiencing the financial strain of continuing the BWC programs during the COVID-19 pandemic.