The state of New Jersey is spending $2.5 million to equip local police departments with body cameras. Officials are calling it an effort to boost transparency and mutual accountability between law enforcement and the public.
“The power of this small, high-tech device really is the power of truth,” said acting Attorney General John Hoffman, who announced the funding in Piscataway on Monday.
Awards ranging from $1,000 to $125,000 went to 175 local police departments in 20 New Jersey counties as well as the Rutgers University police department.
The funding, available through money forfeited by criminals, will buy more than 5,000 body cameras to allow police officers to record their interactions with the public.
For more than a year, body cameras have been a large part of the national conversation around community-police relations in the wake of several high-profile shootings by police.
“What a body-worn camera does is give us an objective witness in a police-involved shooting and other use-of-force incidents,” said Hoffman. “So that truth rules the day — and not emotions, not agendas, and not … biases.”
Not every New Jersey police department applied for an award, however, because the decision to outfit officers with body cameras still rests at the local level.
For those departments that will use the body-mounted recording devices, Hoffman also issued a directive with guidance on how local police can implement body cameras.
Denville Police Chief Christopher Wagner said the prevalence of the recording devices means police officers will be more accountable to the public, but also that the public will be more accountable to itself.
“We’re going to have a much better opportunity now to show people how people behave when they’re interacting with the police,” said Wagner, who also serves as president of the New Jersey State Association of Chiefs of Police.
“We’ll be able to say, for instance, ‘See? We told you this is how people react, and we’ve been asking you not to behave like this.'”
Some of the largest awards in South Jersey went to police departments in Atlantic City, Mount Laurel, Gloucester Township, Hamilton, and Ocean County’s Berkeley Township.
Each department will be able to choose which brand of body camera it buys.
Over the summer, Hoffman vowed to outfit the entire State Police force with body cameras, at a cost of $1.5 million for 1,000 cameras.