As reported by NJ.com, State officials will announce awards to 176 police departments to buy more than 5,000 body cameras, a move they claim puts New Jersey at the “forefront” of states embracing the relatively new technology. Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman said that when his office kicked off the $2.5 million program this summer, interest from local and county agencies was “overwhelming.”
The funding comes at a time of increased scrutiny of interactions between police and private citizens, spurred in part by high-profile police shootings across the U.S. and New Jersey. Earlier this year, Hoffman issued a directive for the use of cameras that was met with criticism both from the state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union and two unions representing New Jersey police officers, who claimed they were not given a seat at the table in drafting the new rules and had to go to court to get more information about the State’s plans.
Udi Ofer, head of the ACLU-NJ, said his group has “significant concerns” about the State’s body camera policy, particularly whether citizens will have access to the footage and how the cameras might be used for surveillance. Last month, a coalition of New Jersey clergy called on lawmakers to go beyond the reforms implemented by Hoffman, advocating for legislation requiring body cameras for all police and the appointment of independent prosecutors to review police shootings. But Hoffman said the high demand for cameras “demonstrates that police officers are embracing this technology to protect themselves, assist them in their work, and foster stronger police-community relations.”
Elie Honig, director of the State Division of Criminal Justice, said the State was “fully meeting nearly every request” for the technology from police departments in 20 counties, as well as the Rutgers Police Department. “There is a sea of change happening right now across New Jersey as law enforcement leaders recognize how these powerful devices serve the interest of both police and the community,” Honig said.
The State program, paid for with forfeiture funds, is one of several aimed at helping departments that may be interested in implementing the technology but unable to bear the up-front costs. In September, the federal Justice Department awarded $23 million competitive grants to help local police buy cameras. The Attorney General’s Office said the State Police has also started implementing its own $1.5 million body camera program, outfitting 100 of an expected 1,000 troopers with the technology. The announcement will include a demonstration of State Troopers using body cameras and the release of video from a recorded motor vehicle stop.