Loyola University Chicago School of Law, J.D. 2023
On June 1, 2021, a new policy went into effect in New Jersey, requiring police officers to wear body cameras. In November 2020, Governor Phil Murphy signed legislation mandating and regulating law enforcement officers’ use of body-worn cameras during encounters with the public. Specifically, the governor signed two bills: S1163 and A4312. The former establishes the requirement for officers to wear body-cameras, while the latter regulates their use. These bills have received support from both law enforcement officials and civilians.
S1163 provides that all uniformed state, county, and municipal patrol officers must wear cameras while carrying out their work, subject to certain exceptions such as meeting with confidential informants and completing administrative or non-uniformed duties. The law also provides an exception when a superior directs an officer not to wear a camera as long as the order is in service of a lawful purpose. While the cameras are being worn in accordance with S1163, A4312 regulates how and when they are to be used. A4312 requires all officers to keep their body cameras on during any encounter with a member of the public, whether they are responding to a call or they initiated the interaction. If it is impossible or dangerous to activate the camera at the outset of the encounter, officers are required to do so at the soonest reasonable opportunity. The law also provides certain exceptions to the active camera requirement, allowing for cameras to be deactivated at a subject’s request or in certain situations in schools, hospitals, or places of worship. Throughout both pieces of legislation, the balance between safety and privacy is the primary concern; the laws seek to promote improved safety measures without becoming intrusive. Other provisions are made for feasibility or other unforeseen but lawful purposes, providing the flexibility that the policy needs in order to remain enforceable.
What are the potential effects of this legislation?
This policy arises largely from an effort to cultivate unity and trust between law enforcement and the public, which is a part of New Jersey’s key initiatives related to law and justice. There has historically been a high level of distrust between New Jersey’s law enforcement and the public; a 2016 study found that New Jersey had the highest gap of any state between the incarceration rates of Black people and white people. Governor Murphy seeks to end mass incarceration and promote community safety through reforms such as the review of criminal sentencing laws, the implementation of new gun safety measures, and the requirement of body cameras for law enforcement officers. Requiring the use of body cameras serves as a deterrent for arbitrary and discriminatory law enforcement practices, and provides a record when such things do occur. This helps to ensure a higher level of higher accountability and responsibility in the police force. New Jersey State Senators have both praised the use of this technology in order to facilitate accountability and prevent misconduct. In addition to promoting police accountability, the body camera requirement is also expected to improve officer safety. Pat Colligan, the president of the New Jersey State Police Benevolent Association (NJSPBA), has expressed his approval of the new legislation as a step towards greater transparency that will benefit both law enforcement officers and the public. Colligan and Bob Fox, the President of the New Jersey Fraternal Order of Police (NJFOP), expect this change to bring about a new layer of safety for officers. Fox has endorsed the role of body cameras as an important safety measure for both law enforcement officers and the public at large.
People’s optimism about the use of body cameras is well-founded; a study published in July 2021 found that the use of body-worn cameras improves the outcomes of police misconduct complaint adjudications. The study, conducted by researchers from Georgia State, American University, and Stockton University, and published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, analyzed citizen complaint data from Chicago from 2012 to 2020, and found that the use of body cameras helps to reduce disparities in adjudication outcomes between racial groups. It also found that significantly fewer investigations were dismissed for lack of evidence, and significantly more officers were sanctioned for misconduct as a result of body camera requirements.
Given the above findings, S1163 and A4312 seem likely to bring about similarly positive changes in New Jersey. With the widespread support that it has received, this new legislation is off to an auspicious start.