Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Digital Eye on State Police

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Digital Eye on State Police

Article excerpt

All state police troopers in the field of duty will soon be wearing body cameras that record their words and actions when dealing with the public, a sea change for an agency that spent a decade under federal monitoring for racial profiling.

The state attorney general unveiled broad changes to New Jersey's law enforcement system on Tuesday, partly in response to a series of incidents in other states over the last year in which police killed unarmed black men.

Within a year, nearly 1,000 New Jersey state troopers will have body cameras on them recording traffic stops, searches, frisks, arrests, witness interviews and other interactions with the public. Local police departments would be encouraged, but not required, to adopt the new technology.

"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," Governor Christie, who is running for the Republican presidential nomination, said in a statement.

New Jersey's state police were under federal monitoring for 10 years after troopers shot and wounded three unarmed minority men during a traffic stop in 1998 and showed a years-long pattern of traffic stops that disproportionately targeted black drivers. They will now become one of the first statewide forces in the country to adopt body-camera technology.

"Public confidence in our police officers is absolutely, positively vital," acting Attorney General John Hoffman said at a news conference in Trenton, flanked by local police chiefs, county prosecutors, members of the clergy and African-American community leaders.

"Body cameras will act as an objective witness," Hoffman said, "so that truth rules the day, not emotions, not agendas and not personal bias."

'Sense of security'

A body camera, shaped like a miniature smartphone, is worn over an officer's uniform and can be turned on and off with the push of a button. Supporters said the technology empowers police and the public by creating undoctored video recordings of their interactions.

"It's one of the best things we ever did," said Chief Michael Foligno of the Elmwood Park Police Department, one of 30 in the state using body cameras.

"It definitely shows the community that we're transparent, we have nothing to hide, and I think, and I hope, it gives them a sense of security that the officers voluntarily, willingly got body cameras," he said. "On the other side of the coin, it keeps the officers professional at all times. Let's face it: We're human beings, guys have bad days, make mistakes. When you're dealing with human beings, you're not going to have perfection."

Some Democratic lawmakers and the state chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People welcomed Christie's changes, saying they hoped the body cameras would increase transparency and accountability when confrontations arise between police and the public. …

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