- Associated Press - Friday, December 25, 2015

DEPTFORD, N.J. (AP) - Some municipalities still remain opposed to adopting police body cameras for its officers despite a continued effort by New Jersey to assist in the cost of the devices.

The New Jersey Attorney General’s Office announced a $2.5 million grant program this month aimed at supplying 5,000 police body cameras to 176 law enforcement agencies throughout the state.

But Deptford Township officials say the money falls significantly short of what is actually needed to operate the systems.

“It’s not sufficient,” Mayor Paul Medany told NJ.com (https://bit.ly/1Iuan8V), citing the added cost of storage and retrieval of the data used in recording the footage.

Deptford Township has been overtly resistant to adopting police body cameras, and earlier this year it challenged a state mandate that had required police departments to equip all newly purchased police vehicles with a form of mobile camera system. That challenge - focused mostly on the cost of the devices and the belief that the state had not provided an adequate funding source - ultimately led to the halting of the mandate, which for now makes mobile camera systems optional for police departments while the matter remains in litigation.

But even with the state’s newly rolled out grant, Medany said municipalities would still have to foot a portion of the bill.

Three municipalities in Cumberland County also applied for funding under the program, including the City of Bridgeton, which will receive $20,000 for 40 devices.

The average cost per device runs between $500 and $1000. But Bridgeton Police Chief Michael Gaimari said the $500 cameras are very cheap and are often defective. Therefore, he said, it is likely that his force will opt for slightly higher-end cameras at about $700 to $800 each.

“The funding only covers about 75 percent,” Gaimari said, adding that the remaining 25 percent would have to be covered by his city.

But in addition to the cost of the devices, officials remain concerned with certain unforeseen issues they believe are likely to arise as more and more law enforcement agencies in the state and country adopt the technology.

Medany in past months has repeatedly said that he is not yet comfortable with the technology and believes particularly with regard to privacy still need to be worked out.

“This is a way unproven technology (and) not enough people are using it,” Medany said. “What happens when a cop goes in that house with a camera rolling?”

The Attorney General’s office reiterated its support for the program, saying in an email that the cameras “promote transparency and accountability” and “encourage public confidence in law enforcement and … provide a video and audio record of what actually took place.”

But Gaimari is also concerned with the technology acting like “big brother” on his officers as well as privacy issues on the general public, saying that the cameras are going to now be recording in private spaces, like residential homes. He also wonders at what point officers would have to turn the devices on and off during the course of a shift - whether they offers will need to have them on all the time, while driving in their vehicles, or just during an encounter with a member of the public. These types of issues he said still need to be worked out.

So while mobile camera systems remain optional for law enforcement agencies in the state, Medany said he plans to see how other police departments handle these unforeseen issues before adopting the technology in his own town.

“Right now, there’s nobody knocking the door down for us to get body cameras, so I think (we) have at the luxury to wait and see how the other municipalities deal with all of the issues and then we’ll take a look,” Medany said.

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Information from: NJ Advance Media.


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