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Body cameras, new procedures for use-of-force investigations coming to NJSP, local police

Photo Credit: Courtesy OCEAN COUNTY PROSECUTOR
Photo Credit: Courtesy OCEAN COUNTY PROSECUTOR

PUBLIC SAFETY: New Jersey State Police troopers will be equipped with body cameras and a special grant program is being established to help local police departments get them, as well, Gov. Christie announced today.

Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman also issued a new directive to strengthen procedures for “independent and impartial investigations” of all police-involved shootings and deadly force incidents in the state.

The provisions include:

NJ Attorney General John J. Hoffman (PHOTO: Courtesy OCEAN COUNTY PROSECUTOR)

· Strengthening comprehensive conflict checks In county prosecutor’s offices within 72 hours of any deadly force incident;

· Requiring mandatory “walling off” of a municipal police department when one of its officers is the subject of an investigation;

· Establishing best practices for grand jury presentations;

· Providing a public statement at the conclusion of any use-of-force investigation that doesn’t result in prosecution.

These “common sense” changes, the attorney general said, “will increase transparency and enhance public trust in law enforcement and the justice system.”

“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,” 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.

“Through that same type of work together, we are now strengthening those efforts with the use of body cameras by police that will bolster trust, and better provide for the safety and protection of residents and officers alike,” he said.

Acting Attorney General John Hoffman detailed how $4 million in funding for body cameras will fully equip the State Police and provide $2.5 million in grant funding to help local police purchase the equipment.

Hoffman also issued a statewide policy for proper use of the devices.

Elmwood Park police, who became one of the first departments in the state to add body cameras, participated in a news conference this morning in Trenton after being part of a roundtable discussion consultation group that helped formulate Hoffman’s policies governing them ( SEE: Elmwood Park police get body cameras for all officers ).

“We discussed what works, what doesn’t work, and more,” Police Chief Michael Foligno told CLIFFVIEW PILOT .

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Deadly Force Investigation Fact Sheet: http://www.nj.gov/oag/newsreleases15/Deadly-Force-Investigations_Fact-Sheet.pdf

Body Camera Police Fact Sheet: http://nj.gov/oag/newsreleases15/Body-Camera-Policy_Fact-Sheet.pdf

Directive on Deadly Force Investigations: http://www.nj.gov/oag/newsreleases15/AG-Directive_Deadly-Force-Investigations.pdf

Directive on Body Cameras: http://www.nj.gov/oag/newsreleases15/AG-Directive_Body-Cams.pdf
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While the aid and guidance will encourage statewide use of body cameras, he said, the decision to buy them is left to each local police department. Hoffman said he expects many will do so because of a state law requiring newly-puchased police cruisers to have mobile recording systems.

Body cams satisfy that requirement, he said.

“In addition to helping police gather evidence, body cameras will act as an objective witness in police-involved shootings and other use of force incidents,” Hoffman said, “so that truth rules the day and not emotions, agendas or personal bias.

“By promoting transparency and ensuring impartial investigations of these incidents, we keep America’s promise of equal justice and we also help the officers who perform difficult and dangerous jobs every day,” he said.

Hoffman said he consulted with law enforcement “stakeholders” — including the county prosecutors, county chiefs of detectives, New Jersey State Association of Chiefs of Police, National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives, New Jersey Asian-American Law Enforcement Officers Association, and Policemen’s Benevolent Association.

His staff also met with advocates, community leaders and clergy, including representatives of the NAACP, NJ Communities Forward, National Action Network, ACLU, Latino Alliance, New Jersey Institute for Social Justice, and faith-based leaders of the African-American and Muslim communities, Hoffman said.

The NJSP will buy 1,000 or so body cameras so that all troopers on the road at any given time will have one in operation, he said.

A $1.5 million allocation toward the purpose will also cover related equipment and upgrades to the State Police computer system for archiving the camera footage.

“We have been videotaping our motor vehicle stops for more than 15 years through the use of in-car dashboard cameras,” NJSP Supt. Col. Rick Fuentes said. “Those recordings have immeasurably improved our ability to supervise and have been widely used during post-stop investigations.

“We are currently developing division protocols for the use of body worn cameras by our uniformed members with input from our unions and guidance from Acting Attorney General Hoffman’s directive,” Fuentes said.

Hoffman’s office also is allocating $2.5 million in criminal forfeiture funds to assist local police departments to buy body cameras at a cost of $500 each.

Each county has a cap, however: Bergen, Essex, Hudson, Middlesex, and Monmouth counties will be capped at $150,000 each.

Other counties are capped at $75,000 to $125,000.

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