UNION COUNTY, NJ — Citing public transparency, community relations and increased accountability in a press conference on Tuesday, Sept. 15, the Union County Prosecutor’s Office announced that it has partnered with eight local municipalities to kickstart the Body Camera Pilot Program.
One third of all uniformed police officers in the county, or 550 officers from those eight municipalities, will be wearing body cameras by the end of October, according to acting Union County Prosecutor Grace Park.
“We’ve seen events from across the nation that demonstrate how critical these relationships between law enforcement and a community are, in both good times and bad. And this relationship is built only through a mutual trust,” said Park. “That trust is only developed through a sense of transparency and accountability in law enforcement. Today, we take yet another step toward fulfilling that mission.”
When the Prosecutor’s Office approached local communities for the program, added Park, they received an enthusiastic response from police departments, which was more than they had initially expected.
As a result, the program is being run in Plainfield, Elizabeth, Fanwood, Garwood, Linden, Mountainside, Scotch Plains and Roselle Park, which together represent more than half of the population in Union County, and Park added that other municipalities strongly considered joining.
Police officials lauded the program at the press conference, saying that body cameras will bring local law enforcement into the 21st century. Officials also said they expect the increased transparency to boost community relationships, which is a police department’s “most powerful tool,” said Park.
“We use a lot of technology in policing. We use automatic license plate readers, facial recognition technology, surveillance cameras and now, we are going to usher in the age of the body-worn camera, which will be a boon to the law enforcement in the community,” said Elizabeth Police Chief Patrick Shannon. “It will ensure the proper and professional conduct of the officers that we demand, and it will provide the public with the transparent, clear view of what occurs.”
The 3.5 ounce body cameras, which need to be activated by police officers before any civilian interactions, record video at a resolution of 680×400, and any recordings are stored in the cloud for at least 90 days afterward. Any willful violations of police policy, including failure to record civilian interactions, will be reported to the Union County Prosecutor, said Park.
The body cameras are being supplied by Taser International, which is a regular state contractor for tasers, according to Park. They will cost $1,350 per officer during the first year of the program, and $670 every year afterward.
Union County is footing the bill for the first year of the Body Camera Pilot Program, which will cost $750,000 in forfeiture funds, while municipalities will be responsible for funding the program afterward. All of the municipalities are on multi-year contracts of at least two additional years. But local officials are confident that the program will save money in the long run, said Park, by providing relief on lawsuits that may otherwise lead to settlements, expensive internal investigations and more.
“They promote professionalism, by providing a record of precisely what was said, what was done, what resulted from the police situation. They eliminate any ambiguity, by providing a clear and easily accessible visual account of them,” said Park. “Time and time again, in these communities these departments serve, situations which in the past could have turned into powder kegs will be diffused. Events that could have led to internal investigations, cost hundreds of man hours and untold thousands of dollars in resources and legal expenses, instead simply never happen.”
The Prosecutor’s Office cited the success of body cameras elsewhere, including in states such as California and Alabama, as reason to believe they’ll have a positive local impact. Several other towns in New Jersey have implemented body cameras, as well, said Park, but no other counties have done so at the same scale as Union County’s new program.
“It seems that our state has some catching up to do, and I’m very proud that Union County is helping to lead the way,” said Union County Freeholder Vernell Wright. “And of course, I would like to thank in advance the officers who will be wearing and using the cameras. You are the pride of Union County, the Union County community, and with this new equipment I am confident, as is the Union County Freeholder Board, that you will continue to provide us with the highest level of professional service.”