A multimillion-dollar federal proposal to fund body-worn cameras for police, expand training and address department reform will likely not benefit many law enforcement agencies in New Jersey, officials and authorities said.
This week, President Barack Obama proposed a three-year, $263 million spending package with $75 million to help fund 50,000 body cameras with state and local governments paying half the cost.
“Let’s face it, 50,000 cameras wouldn’t even cover New Jersey. New Jersey has 565 towns and not all of them are covered by police departments — some have State Police patrols,” said Galloway Township Manager Susan Jacobucci.
Jacobucci said that unfortunately, when Obama announced the proposal this week, there were no details on how the money would be distributed.
The body cameras could help bridge deep mistrust between law enforcement and the public, the White House has said, and also assist in resolving disputes between police and witnesses such as the police shooting in Ferguson, Missouri, in August.
“It’s a great sound bite, but the minute you look beneath the covers, you see it’s only 50,000 cameras. How many police officers are in the United States? How are we going to dole these out?” she said.
Today, there are more than 900,000 sworn law enforcement officers in the United States, which is the highest figure ever, according to data from the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund.
“Our officers are all for the cameras, they want them. But how do you pay for it? And it’s not just buying the cameras, it’s all the additional costs that go with them,” said Galloway Township Police Chief Patrick Moran.
For police chiefs, including Moran, one of the biggest financial concerns with implementing body cameras involves costs associated with Open Public Records Act requests for video footage.
Jacobucci said Galloway would pursue the proposed federal funding for the body cameras, but it would be difficult and competitive for the small number of cameras available.
“50,000 cameras are a drop in the bucket, especially for urban areas. Newark itself has 2,500 police officers. It’s another government mandate without enough government money behind it,” said Jacobucci, who previously served as the director of finance for Newark.
In an attempt to build trust between police and minority communities, 27 New York City police officers on Friday will wear body cameras for the first time as part of a pilot program, and 27 more will follow next week. The move comes after a grand jury Wednesday did not return an indictment against an NYPD officer in the death of Eric Garner, of Staten Island, who was placed in an alleged chokehold by the officer during an arrest.
Police officers in Ferguson began wearing body cameras in September, three weeks after unarmed Michael Brown, 18, was shot and killed by Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson during an alleged struggle.
Atlantic City police have 20 body cameras on the street that are rotated through three patrol shifts, and the department was approved last month to add 100 more.
Galloway Township is now deciding if it will equip officers with body cameras or dashboard cameras inside patrol vehicles, Moran said. The move comes after a state mandate was signed into law in September by Gov. Chris Christie, making the dash cameras mandatory for new patrol vehicles. These cameras can cost as much as $5,000 each, Moran said.
The $25 surcharge on DWI convictions to fund the dash cameras is just not enough, and the federal funding for body cameras will not be sufficient to cover the purchase, maintenance and operating expenses, Moran said.
The state mandate provides for the more affordable option of a body camera — a small device that is size of a pack of cigarettes worn on the officer’s lapel — can cost as much as $1,000, police said.
The Egg Harbor Township Police Department may not need any of the 50,000 body cameras that could be up for grabs from law enforcement agencies across the country. The department already have officers equipped with the body camera technology.
Egg Harbor Township Police have six body cameras worn by officers on the street after field testing the devices last year, said Chief Michael Morris.
The camera technology provides an up-close view for judges and juries into what a police officer sees and does during contact with a defendant, Morris said.
In neighboring Hamilton Township, the police department has body cameras for testing, but they have not been deployed on the street, said Detective Frank Schalek.
The Hamilton Township Police Department expressed an interest in body cameras in late 2012 after Chief Stacy Tappeiner implemented dash cameras in patrol vehicles 10 years ago. For the past two years, they have been studying and researching the various models of body cameras and technology to determine the best device for the department, Schalek said.
Moran pointed to a financial concern associated with body cameras that even Obama’s plan for funding couldn’t cover: the costs associated with Open Public Records Act requests.
Schalek pointed to examples from other police departments where thousands of hours of body camera footage are being requested.
“This can cripple a police department’s resources while trying to process these requests. Every second of each video must be retrieved, reviewed and processed before it is released. Requests like these would take an enormous amount of resources and would essentially shut down our records office,” Schalek said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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