Days before the first day of a statewide body-worn camera (BWC) mandate for all uniformed patrol officers went into effect, Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal unveiled Directive 2021-5 which expands law enforcement officers required to wear body cameras.
The directive expands on the legislation signed by Gov. Phil Murphy in 2020. The new rules ensure proper use of BWCs and extending the mandate to additional officers were parts of the directive.
Under the directive, the Attorney General’s Office provided an initial set of guidelines to implement BWC programs across the state. The directives take best practices into account, and positions the use of BWCs as a way to build community trust while respecting citizen privacy.
Outside research shows BWCs are effective, as a 2012 study found that use-of-force by officers wearing cameras fell by 59% and complaints against officers decreased 87% compared to the prior year, when officers were not wearing cameras.
The legislative command issued in the Body Worn Camera Policy Directive extends to “all uniformed patrol officers.” Additionally, BWCs will be required by a broader range of officers.
For example, law enforcement officers serving in tactical teams, proactive enforcement teams, canine units, or other teams that frequently interact with the public will be required to use BWCs.
The law will not require officers operating undercover, working with confidential informants, or performing administrative duties to wear BWCs.
Aiding Community Policing
“We are witnessing a new chapter in policing in New Jersey with the reforms we are implementing in partnership with law enforcement and community leaders,” said Gov. Murphy at a press briefing June 1. “These powerful devices have been embraced by community members and advocates calling for transparency and by police officers, who see them as a critical tool to protect and assist law enforcement with their difficult jobs.”
Best practices from Directive 2015-1 were carried over, including the broad requirement that BWCs be activated in almost all police-citizen encounters.
The policy’s new rules include a requirement that officers notify citizens that a BWC is in use, and would allow for a BWC to be deactivated at the request of a crime victim. The law would prohibit BWCs to be used to gather intelligence based on First Amendment protected speech or religion.
Under the directive, law enforcement officers would be prohibited from reviewing BWC recording prior to preparing police reports. Recordings would be stored for a longer period of time, as well.
Murphy and Grewal announced on June 1 that the state is funding all 487 law enforcement agencies that applied to the Attorney General’s Office for grant funding to purchase BWCs and associated equipment. The agencies requested funding to purchase 28,214 cameras at a total cost of approximately $57.5 million.
The Attorney General’s Office is administering the grant program on a reimbursement basis, with agencies receiving funding at $2,038 per camera, which may be used for the purchase of cameras and equipment needed to operate them, and towards the costs of storing BWC footage. Many agencies continue to work toward compliance with the BWC mandate and remain at various stages in the procurement process, which has been impacted by the resulting demand for BWCs.
“With the body cameras we are funding, we will literally have an objective witness to how police carry out their duties,” said Murphy.
The policy was developed with extensive stakeholder input. Attorney General Grewal thanked the Interagency Working Group on Body Worn Cameras, which included representatives of law enforcement, state government, the legal community, and faith-based and civil rights groups.
“As we work to strengthen trust between our officers and the diverse communities they serve, the need for accountability and transparency in policing has never been greater,” said Grewal.
“Body cameras are a powerful tool to help us in these efforts. By acting as an unbiased witness to law enforcement actions, they help to safeguard equal justice, while also protecting the vast majority of officers who do the right thing day-in and day-out.”