TRENTON — The Senate Law and Public Safety Committee released a bill today that would establish a task force to study the implementation of body cameras on police officers in New Jersey, a move many have called for in the wake of recent police shooting deaths across the country.
The measure was approved in lieu of an earlier bill (S2399), sponsored by state Sen, Shirley Turner (D-15), that would require nearly all officers in the state to wear the cameras. But that legislation was held, according to Turner, in favor of forming the task force, which would allow lawmakers to first examine the pros and cons of body cameras, from the costs they might incur on local departments to the effects they may have on an officer’s ability to carry out day to day duties.
Both bills were written in response to recent incidents across the country involving civilian deaths at the hands of law enforcement officers, such as the shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teen, by Darren Wilson, a white police officer, in Ferguson, MO.
“We’ve seen Ferguson, Staten Island, Cleveland and Phoenix,” Turner said, referring to other cities where police shootings have taken place in recent months. “These protests have been taking place all across the country, and our country faces a number of difficult question and problems. Our police have been harshly criticized, and I believe most of it is warranted. I believe that our police officers, nationally as well as in the state of New Jersey, are very courageous, brave, and hardworking individuals. However, like in every other profession, there are bad apples in the barrell. This is not directed to the good apples. Just as in elected officials, doctors lawyers teaches, whatever profession you have, there are good apples and bad apples.”
Turner said requiring officers to wear body cameras — a move that has gained much traction and attention across the country following the Ferguson and Staten Island shootings, including support from President Barack Obama — would “help to restore public confidence in the police by dispelling any question of misconduct that may exist” in an incident involving law enforcement and civilians. She noted that police department around the state and country are already adopting the technology voluntarily, which some studies show to reduce public use of force complaints by up to 50 percent.
She added that the mayors of North Jersey’s tri-city alliance, which includes Newark, Paterson, and Jersey City, have said they would consider adopting the measure for their own departments. Trenton Mayor Eric Jackson has also talked about implementing it in the state’s capitol.
“I’m not suggesting this is a panacea to establishing better police relations or eliminating complaints, but this is just one tool that we need in the toolbox to help restore confidence in our criminal justice system,” Turner said.
“We need to begin to heal what has historically been a relationship of mistrust between people of color and our law enforcement community,” she added.
The measure passed unanimously, with three amendments. One changed the language of the original bill slightly, while two others call for four additional members to the task force — two New Jersey mayors to be appointed by the League of Municipalities, and two Republican minority legislators from the Assembly and Senate, to make the task force more bi-partisan.
The original bill called for a 13 member task force, including two appointed by the governor. It will have six months to come up with recommendations.