ACPD body camera

One of the new body cameras worn by Atlantic City Police Department patrol officers. 

Staff photo by John V. Santore

State Police will get 1,000 body cameras and towns will get assistance under a $4 million initiative announced by Gov. Chris Christie’s office Tuesday.

With the growing use of body cameras, acting Attorney General John Hoffman also issued a statewide policy on the proper use of the devices.

The 24-page document does not require departments to use the cameras but sets rules for departments that do have them.

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The directive allows police leaders flexibility in developing their departments’ policies and practices, but “all policies must limit the discretion of individual officers in the field,” Hoffman wrote.

The cameras can be mounted on the chest, shoulder or hat, and are always recording video in a loop that is taped over until the officer pushes a button, which initiates the recording and saving of both audio and video.

The decision to activate the camera must be based on objective criteria, Hoffman said. Also, if an officer decides to stop recording, the reasons “must be documented to permit supervisory review.”

While the cameras are not required, $2.5 million of the money announced will be in grants to help purchase the equipment.

State Police will use the other $1.5 million to purchase about 1,000 body cameras, which have been lauded as a way to make policing more open and to give an unbiased look at sometimes contentious situations between law enforcement and civilians.

“Across the country, we’ve seen what happens when distrust and distance between police and their communities result in situations that can quickly spiral out of control,” Gov. Chris Christie said. “In New Jersey, we’re doing things differently and showing how engagement and relationship-building by officers in their communities make our neighborhoods safer and our law-enforcement efforts more effective.”

Body cameras build upon that, the governor said.

The cameras “will bolster trust, and better provide for the safety and protection of residents and officers alike.”

Locally, the Cape May County Sheriff’s Office led the way with body cameras, beginning in the jails, where Sheriff Gary Schaffer pointed to “dead spots” without surveillance cameras.

Atlantic City is the only department using them in Atlantic County, but others have expressed interest. They can be cost-prohibitive, Atlantic County Prosecutor Jim McClain said.

“The real cost that’s going to be presented to the public is not so much the initial purchase of the hardware but maintaining, storing and archiving the information that’s captured by these body cameras,” he said. “I don’t have specific projections, but that aspect is going to be very costly.”

In addition to grant help, the governor authorized an offset of as much as $500 for each body camera or camera package, which would include any related equipment.

Hoffman also released on Tuesday a supplemental directive to investigations into deadly use of force.

“Although New Jersey’s existing procedures for investigating use-of-force incidents are already among the most comprehensive and rigorous in the nation, it is appropriate to strengthen those investigative standards and protocols to ensure that best practices are followed uniformly across the state,” according to the directive.

All prosecutors were consulted on both directives, McClain said.

“As the attorney general pointed out, New Jersey historically has been in the lead in terms of standardizing police-force investigations and attempting to be able to demonstrate to the public that they were done in a proper manner,” he said. “This was just a continuation along those lines in keeping New Jersey out in front in handing these investigations completely and impartially.”

Although the directive continues the practice that the prosecutor can determine the use of deadly force justified without a grand jury presentation, McClain has so far chosen to put each of these cases before a grand jury. So far, there have been no police officer indictments since McClain was appointed.

Christie also used Tuesday’s announcements to once again herald a reduced crime rate in Camden since it changed to county policing. While the governor has touted it as a success, critics have questioned the reported statistics and pointed to a high turnover in personnel and lack of participation by any other municipalities in that county besides the city of Camden.

Contact: 609-272-7257

Twitter @LyndaCohen

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