As reported by NJ.com, Acting State Attorney General John Hoffman said Wednesday his “instincts and intuition are certainly pro-body camera” for police in New Jersey, but he has concerns about how their use might infringe on privacy in cases such as domestic abuse or sexual assault. Hoffman said during an Assembly budget hearing in Trenton that a working group within his office was studying the matter “very closely” to determine whether a statewide directive for law enforcement should be developed in support of the use of the cameras.
“My instincts and my intuitions are certainly pro-body camera, but…we really need to make sure we’re very careful to accommodate a very complex issue,” Hoffman said, noting there may need to be restrictions on releasing the videos to the media and public. Calls for more widespread use of body cameras have increased during the past year in the wake of several high-profile encounters involving police, and President Obama’s 21st Century Policing Task Force recommended wider implementation to improve transparency. Obama has also pushed for greater federal funding, while last month also warning people that it was not a “panacea,” and more would need to be done to rebuild the trust between the public, particularly minorities, and police departments.
Research shows dramatic reductions in complaints against officers who use body cameras and a reduction in unfounded complaints. The devices also lead to quicker resolutions of complaints and help agencies identify and prove officer misconduct. The recordings can also be used to improve officer training and techniques.
Three New Jersey municipalities, Glassboro, Paulsboro, and Evesham, currently use body cameras, and this week Rowan University announced its police officers had been issued body cameras, making it the first New Jersey college to use the devices. But there are no statewide rules and regulations, leaving it up to each department to determine how to deal with dicey issues such as when the public must be informed of the recording, who can see recordings, and how long they should be kept.
Hoffman said there were complex privacy issues to consider as well. He gave examples such as an officer at a scene of sexual assault with an injured victim and various evidence, or an officer who responds to a call for a domestic assault and someone won’t allow entrance to a home because of the recording, even though an assault may be ongoing inside. “It’s more important from my perspective to do it right than to do it fast,” Hoffman said.
He has not requested funding for the cameras for State Police, but said if a decision was made to implement them, he could use criminal forfeiture funds to cover the cost. The State Senate passed a bill (S2649) in December to create a task force to study the implementation of body cameras, but it has not yet received a hearing in the Assembly.